Nov 29, 2008

India - Mops up last of Mumbai militants - officials

Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian commandos completed operations on Saturday to dislodge Islamist militants at Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel, officials said, ending three days of attacks in India's financial capital that have killed about 150 people.

"Taj is under our control," Mumbai police chief Hasan Gafoor told Reuters, shortly after the building was raked by heavy gunfire and flames leaped out.

At least three militants and one trooper were killed, the country's commando chief Jyoti Krishna Dutt told a news conference.

"Our operations will continue until we check each and every room and floor," he told a huge crowd of jostling reporters outside the hotel.

He said a body seen thrown out of a window at the hotel was that of one of the militants.

There was no word on the fate of hostages or any remaining guests who might have been trapped.

Sniffer dogs were shown being taken to the hotel and ambulances arrived. Some commandos left positions they had been holding around the iconic 105-year-old hotel, and police stood around smiling and looking relaxed.

The Taj Mahal was the last battleground after three days of intense fighting in various parts of the city of 18 million. Before Saturday's four deaths, police had said at least 144 people had been killed.

Other than the gunmen holed up in the vast Taj Mahal, all the other militants have previously been killed or taken into custody.

India blamed the strike on "elements" from Pakistan, raising tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. Pakistan said the two countries faced a common enemy and it would send a representative of its spy agency to share intelligence.

The militants' action has struck at the heart of the city of 18 million people, engine room of an economic boom that has made India a favourite emerging market.

It is also home to the "Bollywood" film industry, the epitome of glamour in a country still blighted by poverty.

An Indian state minister said one of the militants arrested was a Pakistani national and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned of "a cost" if India's neighbours did not take action to stop their territory being used to launch attacks.

But Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi struck a conciliatory note and promised full cooperation.

"Whoever has done this is neither your friend nor our friend," he told reporters in New Delhi. "We are not responsible for this, nor is it in our interest to get involved in something like this."

The attacks were carried out by a small army of young men armed with rifles and grenades, some of whom arrived by sea, who fanned out across Mumbai on Wednesday night to attack sites popular with tourists and business executives.

Authorities said 18 foreigners were among the 144 killed. At least 283 were wounded.

Three Germans, five Americans, one Australian, a Briton, one Canadian, two French, an Israeli, an Italian, a Japanese, a Singaporean and a Thai, were among the dead, according to various governments.

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