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Commandos battle room by room to save tourists  Nov 28, 2008

Indian commandos were fighting room-to-room battles last night to clear armed militants from three sites in Mumbai, including two luxury hotels, more than 24 hours after a series of devastating attacks across the city left more than 100 people dead.

Helicopters buzzed overhead as the commandos, faces blackened, moved into one of the hotels, the Oberoi, where 20 to 30 people were thought to have been taken hostage and more than 100 others were trapped in their rooms. A 15-strong Air France team was among those unable to get out. Flames billowed from an upper floor as the commandos attempted to flush out the remaining gunmen.

Across the city, the situation was still "not under control", according to a government official, following 10 co-ordinated attacks at sites popular with tourists and businessmen in the country's entertainment and financial centre.

Police said at least 125 people were killed when the gunmen fanned out across Mumbai on Wednesday night.

British businessman Andreas Liveras was confirmed among those killed in the attacks. The 73-year-old shipping tycoon of Cypriot origin, who had British nationality, was gunned down moments after speaking to the BBC about his panic by mobile phone after being trapped while dining at one of the luxury hotels.

Some 325 people, including six Britons, were also injured in the biggest terrorist attacks seen in Mumbai since a series of bombings in 1993 killed several hundred people in what was regarded then as revenge for the death of Muslims in Hindu-Muslim violence.

Police warned the death toll could rise as stand-offs continued at three sites.

Last night, it emerged that Ian Tyler, 47, chief executive of Scottish construction giant Balfour Beatty, was among those caught up in the terror. He was staying at the Oberoi Hotel when gunmen stormed the building but managed to escape.

Earlier, explosions rattled the nearby Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a 105-year-old city landmark on the waterfront, as troops flushed out the last of the militants there. Fire and smoke belched from a window. One terrorist was said to be still holed up in the hotel last night.

Dipak Dutta, who was among those rescued, said: "A lot of chef trainees were massacred in the kitchen."

An Israeli rabbi and his family were also believed to have been taken hostage at a Jewish centre. One of the militants at the centre phoned India TV to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages and 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 station as Imran, said, speaking in Urdu in what sounded like a Kashmiri accent.

"Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims. Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?"

Around two dozen militants in their early 20s, armed with automatic rifles and grenades and carrying backpacks of ammunition, had fanned out across Mumbai on Wednesday. Police said some had come ashore in a rubber dinghy.

They commandeered a vehicle and sprayed passers-by with bullets, firing in a railway station, hospitals and a popular tourist cafe. They also attacked two of the city's most luxurious hotels packed with tourists and business executives.

Australian actress Brooke Satchwell, who starred in the Neighbours television soap opera, told how she survived by hiding in a hotel bathroom cupboard.

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

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militants based in neighbouring countries for the attacks. He did not name any country, but his assertion appeared to be a veiled attack on Pakistan, raising fears of renewed tension between the nuclear-armed rivals.

In a televised address the Prime Minister said: "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.

"We will take the strongest possible measures to ensure that there is no repetition of such terrorist acts."

It was reported last night that Interpol was sending a team to Mumbai at the request of the Indian police to help with investigations.

Commandos battle room by room to save tourists
Image via AFP

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