Indian security forces have arrested three militants, including a Pakistani national, inside Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, which was attacked by a group of gunmen, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported early today.
Meanwhile, seven hostages were rescued from a Mumbai residential-business complex, also housing a Jewish centre, which was attacked by Islamist gunmen, Indian security officials said late last night, reports AFP.
The PTI report identified the Pakistani national as Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot, Multan, in Pakistan.
It also said the militants were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba–a Pakistan-based militant group best known for an assault on the Indian parliament in 2001.
The nationalities of those freed was not given, although some foreigners were seen being led away to safety by police, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
"We’ve recovered seven hostages from the complex. Sweeping operations are ongoing," a security official told reporters outside Nariman House in central Mumbai, home to a Jewish prayer and study centre–Chabad House–run by the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch sect which doubles as a hostel.
The complex was one of at least 10 sites targeted by groups of gunmen, who launched coordinated attacks in the city on Wednesday evening.
Officials said commandos continued to sweep through the nearby Oberoi/Trident hotel, where a large number of guests including foreigners were either hiding in their rooms or being held hostage.
They also said they had nearly completed their operation to flush out all Islamist militants holed up in Taj Mahal hotel, with just one injured gunman remaining.
AP reports: With fires still burning inside, Indian commandoes killed the last three gunmen at the landmark Taj Mahal hotel late last night and were sweeping another luxury hotel in search of hostages and trapped people.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard well into the night from the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the city’s top gathering spots for the Mumbai elite, as well as at Jewish group’s centre. Throughout the day, commandoes brought hostages, trapped guests and corpses from the hotels in small groups.
The gunmen’s main targets appeared to be Americans, Britons and Jews, though most of the dead seemed to be Indians and foreign tourists caught in random gunfire.
But clearly the gunmen–some of whom strode casually through their targets in khakis and T-shirts–came ready for a siege.
"They have AK-47s and grenades. They have bags full of grenades and have come fully prepared," said Maj Gen RK Hooda. Vice-Admiral JS Bedi, a top naval officer, said the gunmen even had large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during the fight.
Ratan Tata, who runs the company that owns the elegant Taj Mahal hotel, said they appeared to have scouted their targets in advance.
"They seem to know their way around the back office, the kitchen. There has been a considerable amount of detailed planning," he said at a press conference.
"Over 125 people have died from the hostage crisis," Hassan Gafoor, Mumbai’s police chief told AFP. Up to 287 other people were also reported wounded.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the militants had come from "outside the country" — a thinly-veiled reference to arch-rival Pakistan.
Police said the Taj had been cleared of hostages, and Mumbai police chief Hassan Gafoor told AFP that more than 40 hostages had been rescued from the Oberoi where a large fire had broken out on the upper floors. About 100 people are still trapped in three buildings due to commando operation to end the siege.
Preliminary investigations yesterday pointed to involvement of at least some Pakistani nationals in the serial terror attacks in Mumbai.
Intelligence sources say that foreign hand is fully evident in these attacks. They have arrested a Pakistan national from Chowpatty area in the city.
"There are indications that the perpetrators of the crime, who arrived in Mumbai by boats, are Pakistani nationals," authoritative sources said.
Maharashtra deputy chief minister RR Patil, who also holds the Home portfolio, said revealing detailed information on the terror strikes could prove detrimental at this juncture.
But Pakistan’s defence minister on Thursday said his country had played no role in terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
According to sources, terrorists have demanded the release of prisoners, ransom. However, Ministry of Home Affairs has denied this saying that the terrorists did not make any demand.
Four Navy ships and choppers have launched search over Gujarat-Goa seas. Navy and Coast Guard are conducting joint search for the ship that may have carried the militants.
Credit cards with photos of militants have been seized by the Naval Commandos.
Naval commandos have seized grenades, AK 47 magazines, shells and knives from militants.
At least eight gunmen had been shot dead and one captured, police said. Around a dozen security personnel were also killed, including the head of Mumbai’s anti-terror squad.
Early Thursday, state Home Secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents in Mumbai when they tried to flee in cars, and Roy said four more gunmen were killed at the Taj Mahal. State Home Minister RR Patil said nine more were arrested. They declined to provide any further details.
At least 14 policemen have been killed across the city, including the head of the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad Hemant Karkare, who was shot three times.
Guests who escaped the hotels recounted how the gunmen had specifically tried to round up US and British citizens.
Singh said the attacks were clearly "well-planned and well-orchestrated" and warned "neighbours" who provided a haven to anti-India militants that there would "be a cost’ to pay.
An unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility, with one gunman telling an Indian TV channel by phone that the outfit was of Indian origin and motivated by the treatment of Indian Muslims.
"Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he said.
Some Indian officials pointed a finger at the Pakistan-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba but a Lashkar spokesman denied any involvement.
Nine foreign nationals were among the dead — including a Japanese businessman, an Australian, a German, a British and an Italian — while Americans, French, Israelis and Canadians were said to be among those held or trapped.
The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans at the hotels and restaurant, witnesses said.
"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ‘Where are you from?" and he said he’s from Italy and they said ‘fine’ and they left him alone. And I thought: ‘Fine, they’re going to shoot me if they ask me anything and thank God they didn’t," Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television.
The main Bombay Stock Exchange, itself hit by a terror attack in 1993, was closed until further notice, as were shops, schools and businesses.
In the wake of the attacks, England’s cricketers also abandoned their tour of India to return home.
A number of airlines including Alitalia and Lufthansa cancelled flights to Mumbai yesterday, operators said.
The United States and Britain led global condemnation, with Washington describing the attacks as "horrific", and US president-elect Barack Obama pledging to work with India to "root out and destroy terrorist networks".
The US State Department called the attacks "horrific" and US president-elect Barack Obama said they showed the need for the United States to work with other nations to "root out and destroy terrorist networks."
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, whose country has seen an upsurge of Islamist attacks, "stressed the need for taking strict measures to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the region".
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said: "Terrorists are especially challenging South Asia. A vigorous response to counter these terrorist challenges requires an even more intensified regional cooperation and coordination in all aspects."
Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer blasted the "despicable" raids.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the violence was "totally unacceptable". The European Union expressed "horror and indignation" after European parliament members were caught up in the carnage.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa and Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday denounced the "terrorist" attacks which left around 100 people dead in India’s financial hub Mumbai.
Mussa, who heads the 22-member Arab League, said such "criminal and terrorist acts aggravate the vicious circle of violence and counter-violence," Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.
Another little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in India’s northeast state of Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives.