, MUMBAI, November 29 – Commandos have killed three holdout gunmen in Mumbai’s Taj Hotel, bringing an end to a two-day Islamic militant assault on India’s financial capital that left at least 195 dead, including 22 foreigners.
The final attack on the historic seafront hotel was marked by heavy gunfire and loud explosions that triggered a fierce fire, as special forces units moved against gunmen who had held hundreds of security personnel at bay for three nights.
"All operations are over. All the terrorists have been killed," Mumbai police commissioner Hassan Gafoor said, 59 hours after the attacks began.
On Friday, elite troops had stormed a Mumbai Jewish centre and killed two gunmen but also found five dead Israeli hostages, including a US-based rabbi and his wife, who were murdered as the commandos closed in.
The other luxury hotel that was attacked, the Oberoi/Trident, was declared clear of militants late on Friday, with scores of trapped guests rescued and 24 bodies found.
"They were the kind of people with no remorse – anybody and whosoever came in front of them they fired," an Indian commando said of the young gunmen who slipped into Mumbai on Wednesday evening.
The head of the commando forces, J.K. Dutt, said his men were conducting a final sweep of the battle-scarred Taj.
"We are now going through each and every room to make sure it is safe," Dutt said, appealing to any guests still hiding in the hotel to make themselves known.
"They must open their curtains so that our security forces can see inside and make sure there are only guests and no terrorist inside," he said.
Police officials put the death toll at around 195 people, with 295 others wounded. TV channels described the attacks as "India’s 9/11."
The 22 foreigners killed included the Israelis, two Americans, two French nationals, two Australians, a German, a Japanese, a Canadian, a British Cypriot, an Italian and a Singaporean.
A government minister said the overall toll could rise as more corpses are recovered.
"Once the bodies are collected, the number of deaths might go up to 200," India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Sri Prakash Jaiswal told the Press Trust of India.
At least 11 militants were confirmed dead and one captured. Indian intelligence sources said the detained gunman had confessed to coming from Pakistan.
One group entered the city by boat, while others were believed to have been inside the city – stockpiling arms and explosives – well before the attacks were launched.
The crisis risked escalating into a major stand-off between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying that "some elements in Pakistan are responsible" for the assault.
A number of Indian officials suggested the militants were from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba – notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001 that almost pushed New Delhi and Islamabad to war.
But Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his country had "nothing to do with the attacks" and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi appealed to India not to get drawn into a "blame game" that could spark a dangerous confrontation.
The two countries have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Both the United States and Britain expressed condolences and offered to help investigate the assault on Mumbai, which has been hit by terror attacks before. Nearly 190 people were killed in train bombings in 2006.
US President George W. Bush said he was "deeply saddened," and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was sending police to help with the probe.
India’s newspapers laid much of the blame at the door of the intelligence agencies, which they said had failed spectacularly in allowing a handful of gunmen to slip in by boat and wreak such havoc and devastation.