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November 26, 2008

Gunmen in Mumbai kill at least 100

POLITICS - Heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, hospitals, a popular restaurant and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India’s financial capital today, killing at least 100 people (including at least 11 Indian police officers) and taking Westerners hostage. A group of militants called "Deccan Mujahideen" claimed responsibility.

An explosion at the landmark Taj motel started the chaos. Screams could be heard and enormous clouds of black smoke rose from the at the century-old edifice on Mumbai’s waterfront. Militants also targeted the hotel Oberoi. Fires burned and gunfire was heard for hours and Mumbai police/health officials say at least 300 people were wounded in the shootings.

The militants are now holding Westerners as hostages in both hotels. They kept shouting: `Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?’” said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who managed to flee the one hotel. The militants specifically targeted Britons and Americans to take as hostages.

Authorities believe between 7 to 15 foreigners are being held hostage at the Taj hotel, but its currently unknown how many hostages are being held in the hotel Oberoi.

Mumbai’s Cama Hospital, Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital ,were also attacked but its unknown how many people have been killed, injured or held hostage. Officials at Bombay Hospital said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans were admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshot wounds. All were brought from the Taj hotel.

Militants also attacked the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal. Several militants are still holed up at the station and its believed they also have hostages.

Other gunmen attacked Leopold’s restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers. The militants in the restaurant have approx. 30 hostages.

According to witnesses the terrorists let non-Brits/Americans go. “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,” said one British witness who managed to escape.

Five of the militants had been killed in two of the attacks when they tried to flee in cars and nine more were captured.

The motive for the attacks is not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks by extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2007 that killed 187 people. Deccan Mujahideen, a previously unheard of terrorist group, claimed responsibility but authorities have not released any information as to the motives of the attacks.

India has been wracked by a variety of bomb attacks over the past three years which have killed nearly 700 people, which police blame on extremists intent on destabilizing India's government.

Since May 2008 a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when a series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Mumbai has been hit repeatedly by terror attacks since March 1993, when Pakistani militants carried out a series of bombings on Mumbai’s stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations. The attacks killed 257 people and wounded more than 1,100, were to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims killed in religious riots that had swept India.

Ten years later, in 2003, 52 people were killed in Mumbai bombings blamed on Muslim militants and in July 2007 a series of seven blasts on railway trains and at commuter rail stations killed at least 187.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 per cent of India’s 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 per cent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

A Brief History of Violence in Mumbai

Nov. 26, 2008: Series of shooting and grenade attacks, including two on luxury hotels, kill at least 78 people and wound 200 in Mumbai, India's main commercial city.

Sept. 13, 2008: At least five explosions in crowded shopping areas kill 21 and wound 100 in New Delhi, national capital.

July 26, 2008: Some 16 small bombs explode in Ahmedabad, killing 45.

July 25, 2008: Seven small bombs kill two in Bangalore, hub of India's technology industry.

May 13, 2008: Seven bombs hit crowded markets and streets outside Hindu temples in Jaipur, killing 80.

Nov. 24, 2007: Nearly simultaneous explosions rip courthouse complexes in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad, killing 16.

Aug. 25, 2007: 43 people killed by three explosions at park and street-side food stall in Hyderabad.

May 18, 2007: Bomb during Friday prayers at historic mosque in Hyderabad kills 11 worshippers. Police later fatally shoot five people during clashes with Muslims protesting attack.

Feb. 19, 2007: Train heading from India to Pakistan torn apart by two bombs, sparking fire that kills 68.

July 11, 2006: Seven blasts rip through rail stations and commuter trains in Mumbai, killing 187.

March 7, 2006: Three explosions rock Hindu temple and train station in Hindu holy city of Varanasi, killing 20.

Oct. 29, 2005: 62 killed by three blasts at markets in New Delhi ahead of Hindu holiday of Diwali.

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