Nov 28, 2008

India - Briton tells of his Mumbai rescue

A British businessman who barricaded himself into a Mumbai hotel room for 48 hours when gunmen attacked has spoken of his relief at being rescued.

Mark Abell was staying at the Oberoi, seized by militants on Wednesday.

He said he had no food, little water and was "surrounded by explosions, gunshots and people screaming" but now he was looking forward to going home.

One British national, Andreas Liveras, died and at least seven Britons were hurt in the attacks on the Indian city.

By Friday morning, the Oberoi was back under control of authorities after troops flushed out the gunmen.

But police found 24 bodies there after freeing dozens of guests and staff.

Gun battles are continuing at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, another of Mumbai's luxury hotels, and a Jewish centre, where hostages are still being held.

The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera said British officials were investigating reports that Britons were involved in carrying out the attacks, which have left 130 dead and hundreds more injured.

The claim was made on an Indian television station.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said UK authorities had "no knowledge" of any British links with the killings.

Mr Abell's ordeal was one shared by other Britons who also locked themselves in their rooms during the co-ordinated attacks.

'Too close'

He told the BBC it had been "very grim" and he had been just a few floors away from the worst violence in the hotel.

"I was on the 23rd floor, my colleague was on the 20th floor, and as far as we know all the action was on the 19th floor.

"We were too close for comfort and throughout the night, the whole thing was punctuated by a series of explosions.

"Towards the end of the night it started to quieten down and I was communicating on my Blackberry with other people who were in a similar position and we slowly started to get a picture that we would be evacuated."

He went on to describe the moment he was rescued.

"There was a knock on the door and there was an entourage of heavily armed military, hotel staff and the police."

Asked what was going through his mind at that point, he said: "I'm going home, going to see my children, going to see my wife."

He then described how he was taken downstairs in the lift.

"The lobby was carnage - there was blood and guts everywhere - it was very upsetting.

"Just before I went to my room I'd had dinner in the Kandahar restaurant and I've now just found out that that's one of the places it started and unfortunately the waitress who served us was one of the first to get shot."

Sir Gulam Noon, another British businessman, was also forced to barricade himself and several colleagues into a room at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

He said they were all afraid that at any time the gunmen would kick the door down and, at one stage, smoke from a fire started seeping into the room.

"Then it was a panic situation," he said. "We could feel it in our throats. We knew it was serious."

Eventually, all six were rescued from a balcony by a fire crew, and lowered to safety.

He told the BBC: "I hope, and I'm sure, like Londoners, Bombayites are resilient, brave and will withstand this onslaught on the city."

Fellow Briton Nicole Griffen said she was rescued by Indian special forces from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

"They entered and looked through our passports and scouted around to see if anyone was harbouring terrorists or attackers," she told BBC's Radio 5 Live.

We were then told to wait with fellow guests, while other floors and rooms were checked, she added.

Gun fire

The attacks have been condemned by Gordon Brown as "atrocious"

The Prime Minister said he did not believe there were any further Britons among hostages.

The only British national known to have died is Mr Liveras, a businessman who emigrated to Britain from Cyprus.

Mr Liveras, the founder of a luxury yacht business, had been visiting the Taj Mahal Palace to have a curry on Wednesday evening when he was killed.

He became caught up in the violence, and when he spoke to the BBC he said: "I think it's got the best restaurant here. But as soon as we sat at the table we heard the machine gun fire outside in the corridor."

He described hiding under the table and then being led to a salon in the hotel where hundreds of other guests were sheltering.

The Foreign Office is advising against all non-essential travel to Mumbai until further notice.

A reception centre for British nationals has been set up at the British Council Library in Mumbai and will remain open overnight.

The Foreign Office has issued an emergency number for people with relatives in Mumbai: 0207 008 0000.

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