MUMBAI, November 28 – Special forces stormed a Mumbai Jewish centre and battled to free guests at two hotels Friday, as India blamed Pakistan for an audacious Islamist militant attack that left at least 130 people dead. Troops and security forces were still trying to bring the situation under control more than 36 hours later in India’s financial capital, where around a dozen sites were targeted in a brazen assault on Wednesday night.
It was not known how many hostages and attackers remained at large on Friday afternoon, and it was unclear if 24 bodies found inside the Oberoi/Trident hotel were in addition to the 130 already reported dead.
Officials said the Oberoi hotel was now under the control of authorities, while heavy gunfire was heard at the Taj Mahal, the other five-star hotel targeted in the attack which also hit a hospital and Mumbai’s train station.
Commandos stormed a Jewish centre which had also been hit, as security forces tried to flush out any remaining militants from the attack, which Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee blamed on neighbouring Pakistan.
"According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible," the minister said. He said proof of that involvement "cannot be disclosed at this time," the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.
An Indian commando said the guerrillas had shot at almost anyone who crossed their paths during the shocking attack, apparently launched by a group of young militants who arrived in the port city by boat.
"They were the kind of people with no remorse — anybody and whomsoever came in front of them they fired," said the soldier, a member of India’s marine commando force who would not reveal his identity to reporters.
He said he had seen "blood all over" and bodies "strewn here and there," and that military response teams had tried to avoid harming the civilians who had been trapped in the hotels when the attack was launched.
"We could have got those terrorists but for so many hotel guests," he said.
As world leaders condemned the attack, Indian suspicion fell on Pakistan — whose feared intelligence services have been implicated in attacks inside India in the past. The nuclear-armed nations have fought three wars in the past.
Mukherjee’s accusation was the first time that an Indian official had accused Pakistan by name of involvement in the latest bloodshed.
India has also been grappling with homegrown unrest from Muslims and Maoists, and few details had been made public about the identity, motivations or even numbers of attackers.
One of the gunmen holed up inside the Oberoi on Thursday told India TV by phone that the Islamists had carried out the attacks, which included shooting up the Mumbai train station, because of alleged persecution of Indian Muslims.
PTI reported earlier that Indian officials were pointing the finger at the Pakistan-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba — notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001 that almost pushed India and Pakistan to war.
Police and security officials said 130 people had been confirmed dead — eight of them foreigners — and that more than 370 were wounded. Eyewitnesses who survived the ordeal recounted scenes of terror and carnage.
An Australian man who survived the attack at the Taj Mahal hotel and was rescued by soldiers, Paul Guest, told Australian radio there were scenes of unimaginable carnage.
"There was blood all over the floor and bits of bodies," he said.
The Israeli embassy said around 10-20 Israeli nationals were among those held hostage or trapped. Israeli media reported that India had turned down an offer for help and security advice.
Indian media reports said up to nine foreign nationals were among the dead. A Japanese businessman, two Australians, a Briton, a German, a Canadian and an Italian are believed to be dead.
Witnesses said the attackers had at first gone through the sites looking for people with US and British passports.
India’s relations with the United States have flourished in recent years as the country of 1.1 billion people moved away from its close ties to Russia and embraced a market economy that has dramatically raised growth.
Both the United States and Britain expressed condolences and offered to help investigate the incident in Mumbai, which has been hit by terror attacks before. Nearly 190 people were killed in train bombings in 2006.
"It is clear that we have got to help the Indian government deal with this terrorist incident and we have sent people from the Metropolitan Police to help," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
India’s newspapers laid much of the blame at the door of the country’s intelligence agencies, which they said had failed spectacularly in allowing a handful of gunmen to wreak such havoc and devastation.
The Indian Express singled out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which said he had "special responsibility" because he had been "partly distracted" by modernising the country’s foreign policy and its economy.
"He has not been able to make the slightest difference to our internal security," the paper said.