Indian Commandos Move on Mumbai Chabad House Seized by Terrorists

At Least 119 Dead in Coordinated Attacks by Muslim Extremists Across City

By Anshel Pfeffer, Barak Ravid, Amos Harel, Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondents, and News Agencies

Published November 28, 2008, issue of December 05, 2008.
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Indian commandos were dropped by helicopter on the roof of the besieged Chabad headquarters in Mumbai as Indian snipers at the site opened fire early Friday morning.

Heavily armed Indian commandos, their faces covered by balaclavas, rappelled from helicopters onto the roof of the Chabad center in what television reports said was an assault by the paramilitary National Security Guard to flush out the militants.

Sharpshooters in buildings opposite the headquarters of Chabad began shooting early Friday as a helicopter circled overhead.

A Reuters witness said troops fired into the building, apparently to provide cover, as commandos made at least three sorties and took up positions on the roof.

A top army general said on Friday morning that anti-terrorist operations in Mumbai should be over within a few hours.

The comments by Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj came shortly after the commando operation against terrorists inside the Chabad center began.

Earlier on Friday, there were at least three blasts in the building, as terrorists were believed to be holed up inside - possibly with hostages - but the situation still remained murky.

Jerusalem officials Thursday evening expressed serious concern for the lives of the Israelis being held hostage at the Chabad Nariman House. According to information transmitted to the Israeli authorities, there were at least four bodies inside Nariman House, but it was not known whether they were of Israelis. Indian media reported that about 10 of the hostages being held at the Chabad house were freed by security services, but their identities were not known.

Israeli security officials refused to speculate on whether an attack on Mumbai’s Chabad center was specifically aimed at Jews.

Indian commandos fought to regain control of buildings in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, Thursday after coordinated attacks by armed militants, blamed by the prime minister on a “terrorist” group outside the country.

Police said at least 119 people were killed and 315 wounded when a small army of about two dozen gunmen - at least some of whom arrived by sea - fanned out across Mumbai to attack sites popular with tourists and businessmen, including two luxury hotels.

The Israeli embassy in New Delhi said dozens of Israeli nationals were still trapped in buildings or held hostage more than 24 hours after the assault had begun.

Commandos were fighting room-to-room battles in the two hotels to rescue people trapped by the gunmen, police said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militant groups based in neighboring countries, usually meaning Pakistan, raising fears of renewed tension between the nuclear-armed rivals.

“It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country,” he said in a televised address. “We will take the strongest possible measures to ensure that there is no repetition of such terrorist acts.”

Throughout the day Thursday Israeli consular officials in Mumbai maintained contact with Indian officials. The consulate’s security officer joined the Indian police and army forces surrounding the Chabad center, which Thursday night were still exchanging fire with the terrorists inside the building. The Foreign Minister in Jerusalem and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi also maintained close contact with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

An Israeli hostage inside the Chabad center called the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi Thursday afternoon and related that the terrorists forced her to call to relay their demand that the Indian government release militants from their organization currently being held in Indian jails.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called her Indian counterpart, Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, to offer Israeli assistance in dealing with the terror attacks.

“Israel, India and the rest of the free world are positioned in the forefront of the battle against terrorism and extremists,” Livni said. “Unfortunately, we were harshly reminded of this once again Thursday. The struggle against terror must be a communal struggle, and compels us to improve our cooperation on this front.”

Mukherjee promised Livni the Indian authorities would extend any assistance necessary to evacuate Israelis from the terrorist attack sites and in communicating any relevant information regarding developments in Mumbai to the Israeli authorities.

“I want to see an end to this incident and for all Israelis to be freed safely, but the situation is still tense and there is a great deal of uncertainty,” Livni said.

The Foreign Ministry’s situation room in Jerusalem was in emergency mode Thursday as it attempted to make contact with dozens of Israelis known to be in Mumbai. Ministry officials Thursday said four to six Israelis were thought to be at Nariman House, including two men in the diamond trade. Between 20 and 30 Israelis are believed to be among the hostages held at the city’s Taj Mahal and Trident-Oberoi hotels.

During the day Thursday, various proposals were examined to send Israeli diplomatic, security and military personnel to Mumbai. In the end it was decided to reinforce the Israeli diplomatic mission in Mumbai with diplomats from New Delhi as well as from neighboring states.

Livni said a plane would be dispatched to India if needed, either to render assistance or to evacuate Israelis from Mumbai. “We are increasing the presence of our people in the area of Chabad House and across from the Oberoi,” Livni said. “We are in constant touch with the police and India’s Ministry of External Affairs and we are trying to locate all of the Israelis.”

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