Indian Forces Battle Pockets of Militants

A commando rappelled from a helicopter near Nariman House, where militants are believed to be hiding, in Mumbai on Friday.

Days of Noah

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
—Matthew 24:37


“The earth also was corrupt before God,and the earth was filled with violence”.
—Genesis 6:11

MUMBAI, India — As the crisis in Mumbai approached its third day, Indian commandos battled stubborn resistance by militants on Friday, seeking to end the bloody assault on India’s financial and entertainment capital that has shaken the nation and raised perilous regional tensions with Pakistan.

Shortly before night settled over the stricken city, the police said the death toll had reached 143 with the discovery of 24 bodies in the luxury Oberoi hotel, where guests were set free on Friday. Some had barricaded themselves in their rooms as security forces re-asserted control of the building, watching events outside on television news channels. But police and military officers did not explain why the operation to flush out a handful of assailants in other places had taken so long.

Commandos slid down ropes from a hovering Army helicopter on Friday morning as they stormed a Jewish center that had been seized. The blue-uniformed troopers landed on the roof and soon made their way inside Nariman House, home to the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch. The caution and pace of their maneuvers suggested the authorities were keen to avoid civilian casualties.

Throughout Friday, a gun battle raged inside the Jewish center, which echoed to the thump of explosions and the rattle of automatic fire. Despite a flurry of news reports that five captives and two attackers had been killed, there was no immediate word on the fate of hostages assumed to be held or the final course of events there.

Late in the day, commandos in black uniform wearing heavy body armor moved into buildings around Nariman House, relieving commandos in blue or black uniforms who had been in action all day. For the first time, a van with six medics in surgical gowns and masks parked close to Nariman House, apparently in anticipation of casualties.

Indian security forces claimed success in rescuing scores of guests and killing two assailants at the five-star Oberoi hotel but still appeared to be encountering resistance inside the ornate, turreted Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel. The hotels and the Jewish center were among several locations hit by the attackers late on Wednesday, including the main train station, a hospital, a cinema and a historic cafe. An American spiritual group, the Synchronicity Community, said two of its members identified as Alan and Naomi Scherr, had been killed at the Oberoi hotel.

While there was still no definitive word on the identity or affiliation of the attackers, an Indian official said one assailant had been captured alive and was a Pakistani citizen. The assertion, by R.R. Patil, the home affairs minister of Maharashtra State, where Mumbai is located, could further increase tension between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states which have fought wars in the past. In a significant development, Pakistan said on Friday it was prepared to send its intelligence chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to India to share information in the investigation into the attacks.

In London, officials said they were unable to confirm reports in a British newspaper that some of the attackers held British passports, which are relatively common among people with ties to former British colonies.

The main success of the day for the authorities came at the Oberoi hotel where police said that 93 foreigners — some of them wearing Air France and Lufthansa uniforms — had been rescued on Friday. Exhausted survivors offered harrowing accounts of their ordeal, trapped on the upper floors of the high-rise hotel occupied on lower floors by gunmen.

The Mumbai police chief, Hassan Ghafoor, said 24 bodies had been found at the hotel.

At the Taj hotel , several trucks carrying Indian commandos arrived at 1:15 p.m. on Friday. The troopers appeared to be starting an assault on the hotel, where an army official said at least one militant was still holding hostages. Throughout Friday, explosions and small arms fire were heard from the hotel as security forces sought to free hostages. But progress seemed cautious and slow. Outside the hotel, an Indian army sniper took up position in a cherrypicker. By late afternoon, smoke had again begun to billow from the roof of the hotel, parts of which were gutted by a huge blaze after the gunmen first moved into the hotel on Wednesday. And by nightfall, explosions and gunfire continued to shake the building.

The leader of a commando unit involved in a gun battle Thursday morning inside the Taj said during a news conference on Friday that he had seen a dozen dead bodies in one of the rooms.

His team also discovered a gunman’s backpack, which contained dried fruit, 400 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, four grenades, Indian and American money, and seven credit cards from some of the world’s leading banks. They pack also had a national identity card from the island of Mauritius, off Africa’s southeastern coast.

The attackers were “very, very familiar with the layout of the hotel,” said the commander, who disguised his face with a scarf and tinted glasses. He said the militants, who appeared to be under 30 years old, were “determined” and “remorseless.”

On Thursday, the police said 14 police officers had been killed in the city, along with nine gunmen. Nine suspects were taken into custody, they said.

In a televised speech Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed forces “based outside this country” in a thinly veiled accusation that Pakistan was involved. A day later, India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that, according to preliminary reports, “some elements in Pakistan are responsible.”

But Pakistan seemed anxious to defuse the mounting crisis in relations with its neighbor. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said India and Pakistan should join hands to defeat a common enemy, and urged New Delhi not to play politics over the attacks in Mumbai, Reuters reported.

“Do not bring politics into this issue,” the Pakistani foreign minister told reporters in the Indian town of Ajmer during a four-day visit to India. “This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy.”

President Asif Ali Zardari called Mr. Singh, Reuters reported, to say he was “appalled and shocked” by the terrorist attacks. “Non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda, but they must not be allowed to succeed,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Jeremy Kahn from Mumbai; Mark McDonald from Hong Kong; Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar from New Delhi; Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan; Alan Cowell from Paris; and Liz Robbins from New York.

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