India Terror Siege Drags On At Hotel

A fresh battle is raging at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, India. Meanwhile, commandos ended a siege at another luxury hotel and stormed the headquarters of an ultra-orthodox Jewish group.

Indian and Israeli rescue officials say the commandos found the bodies of five hostages inside the Jewish center. Two gunmen were also killed.

Meanwhile, as many as six gunmen are thought to be in the Taj Mahal hotel. After hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions Indian forces began launching grenades at the landmark hotel.

Commandos had killed the two last gunmen inside the nearby Oberoi earlier in the day, and the head of the commando unit says it's under control.

More than 150 people have been killed since gunmen attacked 10 sites across India's financial capital starting Wednesday night, including 22 foreigners two of them Americans, officials said.

Early Friday night, Indian commandos emerged from a besieged Jewish center with rifles raised in an apparent sign of victory after a daylong siege that saw a team rappel from helicopters and a series of explosions and fire rock the building and blow giant holes in the wall.

After hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions at the elegant Taj Mahal hotel Friday, the battle heated up at dusk when Indian forces began launching grenades at the hotel, where at least one militant was believed to be holed up inside a ballroom, officials said.

CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reported that the chief of the of commando unit which raided the Taj Mahal Friday said he had seen about 50 bodies strewn about inside the luxury hotel.

Commandos had killed the two last gunmen inside the nearby Oberoi earlier in the day.

"The hotel is under our control," J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite National Security Guard commando unit, told reporters, adding that 24 bodies had been found. Dozens of people - including a man clutching a baby - had been evacuated from Oberoi earlier Friday.

The airborne assault on the center run by the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch was punctuated by gunshots and explosions and exchanges of fire as forces cleared it floor by floor, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Nearly 12 hours after the battle began, Indian troops left the building to cheers from the crowd, but the fate of the two to three hostages believed to be inside was unclear, said Mumbai Police Chief Hassan Ghaffoor. Ghaffoor said "the operation was ongoing" but in its "final stage."

Israel's ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, said they believed there were up to nine hostages inside. Sofer denied reports that Israeli commandos were taking part in the operation.

Moshe Holtzberg, a 2-year-old who was smuggled out of the center by an employee, is now with his grandparents. His grandfather told Israel Radio on Friday that he had no news of Moshe's parents.

More than were 288 injured when suspected Islamic militants attacked 10 sites in Mumbai starting Wednesday evening. Two Americans - a Virginia man and his teenage daughter - are confirmed dead. Read more.

At least eight foreigners are known to have been killed so far and 22 more have been injured, said top security official M.L. Kumawat. The dead include three Germans, and one person each from Japan, Canada, Britain and Australia. The nationality of one more victim is unknown.

The injured include five from Britain, three Germans, two Americans, two from Oman and one each from Norway, Spain, Canada, Finland, Philippines, Australia, Italy and China. Two more were unknown.

Security officials said their operations were almost over.

"It's just a matter of a few hours that we'll be able to wrap up things," Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj told reporters Friday morning.

Dozens of people were evacuated from the luxury Oberoi earlier Friday, including 20 Western airline crew members and an earlier group of seven, some of whom were carrying luggage bearing Canadian flags.

About nine masked Indian commandos dropped from helicopters onto the roof of the Jewish center, where Muslim militants were rumored to have taken hostages - possibly including a rabbi and his wife. Sharpshooters kept up a steady stream of fire at the five-story building.

Shortly after the commandos landed on the roof of the building, top Indian Army commander Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj said anti-terrorist operations in Mumbai should be over within a few hours.

On Thursday morning, two workers and a child escaped from the building, the only people to emerge so far. The child was identified as Moshe Holtzberg, 2, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, the main representative at Chabad house. The child was unharmed, but his clothes were soaked in blood.

Hundreds of people had been captive in the two hotels, many locking themselves in their rooms or trying to hide as the gunmen roamed the buildings.

Commandos spent much of Thursday bringing out hostages, trapped guests and corpses from the hotels in small groups while firefighters battled flames that erupted. The fires were out by Friday.

(AP Photo)
Dalbir Bains, who runs a lingerie shop in Mumbai, had just sat down for dinner by the pool at the Taj Mahal (seen at left) when she heard the first shots. She ran upstairs and huddled under a table in the Sea Lounge restaurant. She and about 50 others who were with her tried to remain as quiet as possible.

"The gun shots were following us," said Bains, as she recounted her ordeal. (Click here for more harrowing eyewitness accounts.)

The well-coordinated strikes by small bands of gunmen starting Wednesday night left the city shell-shocked. An Indian police official said Friday that 24 bodies had been found when security personnel entered the Oberoi, raising the death toll from the attacks to 143 people. Almost 300 more were injured.

As the extent of the carnage was revealed Friday, the origin of the attack remained a mystery, with different reports pinning the likely blame on India's well-established Islamic militant groups, but increasing rhetoric that pointed a finger of guilt in the direction of Pakistan.

"According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks," Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters Friday in the western city of Jodhpur. "Proof cannot be disclosed at this time."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "external forces" for the violence - a phrase, reported CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips, which means Pakistan or groups operating from within Pakistan.

Phillips reported that the two neighboring, nuclear-armed countries have been trying to build confidence after years of fighting over the Indian-held territory of Kashmir.

But militant groups hostile to India and the West still operate in Pakistan, and certain elements within Pakistan's powerful military intelligence services are thought to be sympathetic.

Pakistan said Friday it would send its top intelligence official to India to help with the investigation. The office of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said he had agreed to send the head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency based on a request from his Indian counterpart.

A government statement said Indian premier Manmohan Singh told Gilani during a phone call on Friday that preliminary reports about the attack "point towards Karachi," Pakistan's largest city. The statement didn't elaborate.

India's NDTV reported Friday that one or two of the gunmen may have been British nationals of Pakistani descent. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said no "early conclusions" could be made "about British involvement" in the attacks, and NDTV did not offer evidence to support the claim.

Indian media reports said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility in e-mails to several media outlets. The Deccan is a region in southern India that was traditionally ruled by Muslim kings.

Walid Phares, a Senior Fellow and the director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, told CBS News that the attacks may have been intended to take pressure off Islamic militants operating inside Pakistan.

Phares explained that, as India-Pakistan relations have improved under pressure from the U.S., troops have been slowly moving away from the two country's shared border and advanced instead toward the Taliban deeper inside Pakistan.

He said it was possible the Mumbai attacks were aimed at relaxing pressure on Taliban and other extremists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border by re-establishing the tensions on the Indian side.

Analysts around the world were debating whether the gunmen could have been tied to - or inspired by - al Qaeda.

"It's clear that it is al Qaeda style," but probably not carried out by the group's militants, said Rohan Gunaratna, of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore and author of "Inside Al Qaeda."

(Mumbai Mirror, Sebastian D'souza)
The gunmen were well-prepared, even carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during the fight. Their main targets appeared to be Americans, Britons and Jews, though most of the dead seemed to be Indians and foreign tourists caught in the random gunfire.

The gunmen - some of whom strode casually through their targets in khakis and T-shirts - clearly came ready for a siege.

"They have AK-47s and grenades. They have bags full of grenades and have come fully prepared," said Maj. Gen. R.K. Hooda.

A U.S. investigative team was heading to Mumbai, a State Department official said Thursday evening, speaking on condition of anonymity because the U.S. and Indian governments were still working out final details. The official declined to identify which agency or agencies the team members came from.