Militants target tourists in India; at least 101 are dead

MUMBAI, India — Coordinated groups of gunmen shot and blasted their way through tourist sites in the Indian financial center of Mumbai late Wednesday and early today, killing at least 101 people and wounding more than 200 while apparently targeting American and British citizens for use as hostages.

The attackers swept through two luxury hotels favored by foreigners, the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi, firing automatic weapons, throwing grenades and sending panicked guests scrambling for safety. Some were trapped inside the hotels for hours, even as a series of explosions set fire to the Taj hotel, an icon of Mumbai’s waterfront.

The Associated Press also reports that gunmen seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-­orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch overnight, and that shots have now been heard coming from the building.

Although Mumbai has been the scene of several terrorist attacks in recent years, experts said Wednesday’s assault required a previously unseen degree of reconnaissance and planning. The scale and synchronization of the attacks pointed to the likely involvement of experienced commanders, some said, suggesting possible foreign involvement.

Launching their assault after dark, the terrorists struck almost simultaneously at the city’s domestic airport, a railway station and sprayed gunfire at the Cafe Leopold, a restaurant popular with foreigners. In all, up to 16 groups hit nine sites on the southern flank of this crowded metropolis of 20 million.

Mumbai is south Asia’s financial hub and an entertainment capital, with many of the glitzy targets symbolizing the new, cosmopolitan face of the world’s largest democracy.

Several witnesses said the gunmen demanded to see passports from cornered guests, separating American and British tourists from the others. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties but were still checking.

In the chaos and confusion, it was difficult to confirm details or determine the state of hostages apparently being held on several floors of the damaged hotels. India’s NDTV 24×7 news network reported the gunmen were holding more than a dozen foreigners, including a Belgian and an Indonesian.

A previously unknown group calling itself Deccan Mujahideen said it carried out the attack, though experts warned that the claim might be a hoax. Mumbai and other Indian cities have suffered a spate of terror attacks in recent years, most of which the Indian government has blamed on Muslim extremists

Previous terror attacks have usually been bombs left in public spaces such as markets and parks, causing indiscriminate casualties. In sharp contrast, Wednesday’s attacks were a brazen, frontal assault using automatic weapons.

The targets included police headquarters in south Mumbai, where some officers were pinned down by gunfire. And the victims included Mumbai’s head of anti-terrorism, Hemant Karkare, and two of his senior police officers, complicating the Indian response.

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