November 27th, 2008 09:39 EST
Mumbai, India Al Qaeda is Here
Teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India`s financial capital Wednesday night, killing at least 78 people and taking Westerners hostage, police said.
An explosion rocked one of the hotels, the landmark Taj Mahal, early Thursday, followed by raging fires. Officials say police have killed four suspects in the Mumbai terror attacks and arrested nine more.
The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans, witnesses said. Fires burned and gunfire was heard for hours. Officials said at least 200 people were wounded.
The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2007 that killed 187 people.
An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets.
Alex Chamberlain said a gunman, a young man of 22 or 23, ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and ordered everyone to put up their hands. He said the gunman spoke in Hindi or Urdu.
"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," he said.
Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.
Early Thursday, several European lawmakers were among people who barricaded themselves inside the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city`s best-known destinations.
"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a European Union-India summit.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday that the attacks in Mumbai which killed more than 100 people were probably plotted by a group based in a neighbouring country.
Indian governments often blame neighbouring Pakistan or sometimes Bangladesh for supporting or harbouring militant groups which have launched attacks on Indian soil.