MUMBAI HOTEL SIEGE ENDS

CLAIM OF RESPONSIBILITY

The siege has ended Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel and the last three gunmen there have been killed, a state official said.

Indian commandos fought Islamic militants for control of two Mumbai hotels tonight to save dozens of foreigners trapped or being held hostage inside.

Co-ordinated Islamist terrorist attacks in Mumbai that have killed at least 80 people in areas…
Views today: 1962Sorry, this video is no longer available.Guests and workers rescued from the hotels said that bodies were littering the corridors, suggesting that the final death toll from the al-Qa’ida-style terror attacks could continue to climb.

It emerged this evening that Andreas Liveras, a British shipping magnate, was among the dead. The businessman, who featured on this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, had earlier given an interview to the BBC saying he was trapped with a big group hiding in the basement of his hotel.

As India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed forces “outside the country” for last night’s co-ordinated attacks, the Indian Navy boarded and searched a cargo ship recently arrived off Mumbai from Pakistan.

Police said 125 people have been killed in the attacks, with at least six foreigners dead including an Australian, a Japanese and an Italian.

The Australian killed in the attacks was named last night as Brett Gilbert Taylor. Mr Taylor, 49, was brought dead to St George Hospital, in south Mumbai, sources at the hospital said.

Friends said Mr Taylor, a fourth-generation timber merchant from Turramurra, in Sydney’s north, was the epitome of the great Australian male, who loved talking proudly about his family over a beer.

Peter Freedman, who has known Mr Taylor since their high school days at Sydney’s Trinity Grammar, said “Stubby” was always a good friend to everyone.

Mr Taylor was in India representing Blacktown Timber, a family-owned business in Sydney’s west.

The gunmen slipped into the city on two small boats on Wednesday night, mooring near the Gateway of India monument before fanning out across the southern part of India’s financial capital. Carrying assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives, they hit targets including a hospital and a bar popular with backpackers and tourists.

They also stormed the city’s two most famous luxury hotels, including the landmark Taj Mahal Palace that is a favourite watering spot for the elite of Mumbai and Bollywood. Witnesses said that they tried to find British and American visitors to take hostage.

Mr Liveras, 73, the British victim, was in the Taj hotel’s restaurant when the attacks began.

“As soon as we sat at the table we heard the machine gun fire outside in the corridor,” he said in an interview from his mobile phone shortly before he died.

“We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now.

“There must be more than 1,000 people here. There are residents and tourists and locals. We are not hiding, we are locked in here – nobody tells us anything, the doors are locked and we are inside. Hotel staff are helping us a lot, providing water and sandwiches – but nobody is eating really, people are frightened.

“At this moment it’s very quiet. The last bomb exploded about 45 minutes ago and it shook the hotel up. Nobody comes in this room and nobody goes out and we don’t really know.

“All we know is the bombs are next door and the hotel is shaking every time a bomb goes off. Everybody is just living on their nerves.”

It is unknown exactly what happened next but within hours Mr Liveras had been pronounced dead with multiple gunshot wounds at the city’s St George’s hospital.

Mumbai’s police chief said earlier today that the Taj hotel had now been cleared of militants, but it was rocked by loud blasts and gunfire this afternoon as security forces moved through it.

Crowds cheered outside another luxury hotel, the Trident-Oberoi, as black-faced commandos moved in. Around 30 people were thought to have been taken hostage and at least 100 others were trapped in their rooms. Smoke poured from an open window of the hotel and gunshots rang out.

Survivors told harrowing stories of close encounters with the gunmen and described how they saw dead bodies piled up in the hotel. One man rescued from the Taj said that the hotel’s trainee chefs had been massacred in the kitchen.

Brooke Satchwell, the Australian actress who starred in Neighbours, said she narrowly escaped the gunmen by hiding in a bathroom cupboard at the Taj, where she was staying for a film shoot.

“There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom,” the actress said. “The next thing I knew I was running down the stairs and there were a couple of dead bodies. It was chaos.”

Commandos had also gathered outside a Jewish centre where a rabbi from the ultra-Orthodox Chavad-Lubavitch outreach group was being held hostage, but apparently decided against an assault.

A militant holed up at the centre phoned an Indian television channel to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages, but also to complain about abuses in Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars.

“Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages,” the man, identified by the India TV channel as Imran, said, speaking in Urdu in what sounded like a Kashmiri accent. “Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir?”

The attacks were claimed by a previously unknown group, the Deccan Mujahedeen, which demanded the release of all Mujahideen, or Islamic holy warriors, in Indian jails. The co-ordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, but there was no sign of any formal link with the terror network.

One militant inside the Oberoi-Trident, identifying himself only as Sahadullah, told an Indian television station by telephone: “Release all the mujahideens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled.”

Mr Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, said that the terrorists had “external linkages”. “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.

But Pakistan’s leaders strongly condemned the attacks and the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is often accused of fomenting unrest in India, denied any involvement.

The Indian Navy boarded a cargo ship five kilometres off the Mumbai coast. A Navy spokesman said that the MV Alpha had recently arrived in Mumbai from the Pakistani city of Karachi.

Britain and the US led global condemnation of the attacks. Gordon Brown said that he had sent Mr Singh a message assuring that “the UK stands solidly with his government as they respond, and to offer all necessary help”.

“These outrageous attacks in Mumbai will be met with a vigorous response,” he said.

There was similar condemnation of the “horrific” attacks from the US State Department. President-elect Barack Obama said it showed the need for Washington to work with other nations to “root out and destroy terrorist networks”.

A number of airlines cancelled flights to Mumbai, among them Italy’s flag-carrier Alitalia and Germany’s Lufthansa.

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