Friday, November 28, 2008

Indian commandos storm besieged Jewish center

MUMBAI, India (AP) - Masked Indian commandos dropped from helicopters Friday onto the roof of a Jewish center in Mumbai where suspected Muslim militants were holed up, possibly with hostages, as sharpshooters kept up a steady stream of fire at the five-story building.

The assault came as commandos freed nearly two dozen captives from the nearby Oberoi hotel as they searched the building for attackers still holed up more than a day after a chain of attacks across India's financial center by the militants left at least 119 people dead.

Security officials insisted their operations, which had been going on for nearly two days, 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.

The commando attack on the headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch was punctuated by gunshots and explosions from within the building as forces cleared it floor by floor, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Hundreds of onlookers, many with binoculars, crowded onto roofs and in narrow alleys of south Mumbai, trying to catch a glimpse of the dramatic commando assault.

It was not immediately clear if there were hostages in the building or their fate.

At the Oberoi hotel, at least 25 captives were rushed out and loaded into waiting cars, buses and ambulances.

The group, many clutching passports, included at least two Americans, a Briton, two Japanese nationals and several Indians.

Some carried luggage with Canadian flags, and two women were dressed in black abayas, traditional Muslim women's garments. The group included one man dressed in chef's uniform who was holding a small baby.

"I didn't see anything. I just heard loud blasts," said a man who smiled and waved to reporters. He said he was British, but declined to identify himself. "I was in my room. I didn't get out till an hour ago."

The well-coordinated strikes by small bands of gunmen starting Wednesday night left the city shell-shocked, but the sporadic gunfire and explosions at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels dwindled overnight.

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