Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at a luxury Mumbai hotel Saturday, ending a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial capital by suspected Islamic militants that killed 195 people and rocked the nation.
Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.
“There were three terrorists, we have killed them,” said J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite National Security Guard commando unit.
Some 295 people were also wounded in the violence that started when more than a dozen assailants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai on Wednesday night. Fifteen foreigners were among the dead.
Dutt told reporters outside the hotel his forces would continue to search and clear it. A major in the commandos was killed in the final assault, he said.
Some hotel guests were still believed to be in their rooms. “They are still scared, so even when we request them to come out and identify ourselves, they are naturally afraid,” said Dutt.
Outside, anxious relatives stood in groups hoping family members trapped inside would walk out. Many had been keeping a vigil since the attack began.
With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India’s history, attention turned from the military operation to questions of who was behind the attack and the heavy toll on human life.
The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. Two Israelis and another American were also killed in the house, said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.
Authorities scrambled to identify those responsible for the unprecedented attack, with Indian officials pointing across the border at rival Pakistan, and Pakistani leaders promising to cooperate in the investigation. A team of FBI agents was ordered to fly to India to help investigate.
On Friday, commandos killed the last gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said. Dozens of people were evacuated from the Oberoi earlier Friday.
The group rescued from the Oberoi, many holding passports, included at least two Americans, a Briton, two Japanese nationals and several Indians. Some carried luggage with Canadian flags. One man in a chef’s uniform was holding a small baby. About 20 airline crew members were freed, including staff from Lufthansa and Air France.
“I’m going home, I’m going to see my wife,” said Mark Abell, with a huge smile on his face after emerging from the hotel. Abell, from Britain, had locked himself in his room during the siege.
As fighting stretched into a fourth day Saturday, the Taj Mahal hotel was wracked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions, even though authorities said earlier they cleared it of gunmen.
Indian forces launched grenades and traded gunfire with what authorities believed was one or two militants holed up in the ballroom. What appeared to be a black-clad figure toppled from a first-floor window.
Officials said at least 12 gunmen had been killed and one arrested after the attack that shook the city and the country.
“There is a limit a city can take. This is a very, very different kind of fear. It will be sometime before things get back to normal,” said Ayesha Dar, a 33-year-old homemaker.
In the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center as snipers laid down cover fire.
For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch.
The assault blew huge holes in the center, and, at one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.
Soon after, elated commandos ran outside with their rifles raised over their heads in a sign of triumph.
But inside the Chabad House was a scene of tragedy.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men were found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said.
The attackers were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.
The gunmen moved skillfully through the blood-slickened corridors of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, switching off lights to confuse the commandos.
Authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.
President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. “These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India’s great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them,” he said in a statement.
India’s foreign minister said the blame appeared to point to Pakistan. “According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks,” Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.
Jaiprakash Jaiswal, India’s home minister, said a captured gunmen had been identified as a Pakistani.
Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country Friday. “I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents.”
India has been shaken repeatedly by terror attacks blamed on Muslim militants in recent years, but most were bombings striking crowded places: markets, street corners, parks. Mumbai