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Indian Forces Continue Battle With Mumbai Gunmen

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Explosions and gunfire rang out today across Mumbai, India. Commandos fought to free hostages held in two luxury hotels and a Jewish center. Yesterday militants armed with guns and grenades launched a series of violent assaults. At least 120 people are dead. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Mumbai.

PHILIP REEVES: One of the noisiest cities in the world has been shocked into silence. We're just a few dozen yards from the Taj Mahal Hotel, the most prestigious of the 10 targets chosen by Islamist militants who stormed into Mumbai Wednesday night. A few moments ago, there was a big explosion. Smoke and flames are pouring out of the hotel into the clear blue afternoon sky. The police say Indian commandos are going through the building room by room freeing trapped customers and seeking out the last of the gunmen.

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We're standing in the shadow of the hotel's tower in a lane concealed by a colonnade. Tourists usually wander these backstreets looking for bargains in the arts and craft shops. Not today. It's very eerie. It's pretty silent here. But behind every other pillar, I can see commandos or plain clothes security agents all of them carrying Kalashnikovs or one other form of weapon and intently staring upward at the hotel in front of me.

Many hours have elapsed since gunmen blasted their way into the Taj, a landmark on the Mumbai waterfront more used to admitting film stars and princes than armed fanatics. Stories poured in today from survivors of the multiple attacks on India's commercial capital once known as Bombay. The gunmen, some of whom may have landed by boat, attacked a railway station, a Jewish center, and hospitals.

They also struck at Mumbai's five-star Oberoi Trident Hotel. As night fell, a siege was continuing at that building. Reports say militants may be holding up to 30 people hostage there. Dozens of guests are thought to be trapped in their rooms. When Brooke Satchwell, an Australian actress, realized what was happening, she hid in the cupboard.

Ms. BROOKE SATCHWELL (Australian Actress): We climbed in there. We could hear the machine guns outside, quite close. And two of the men at one end kept opening the doors, which was absolutely terrifying, and going back out and coming back in. And they were saying there was a dead body outside the bathroom, and also they were seeing people getting shot in the hallway.

REEVES: Indians are outraged by these attacks. They aren't the first. There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities. Mumbai has been hit before. Just over two years ago, several hundred people were killed in a wave of coordinated bombings on Mumbai's commuter trains. Pakistan's condemned the latest attacks, but India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, today made a televised address to the nation and blamed what he called external forces.

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(Soundbite of televised address)

Prime Minister MANMOHAN SINGH (India): It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks based outside the country had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country.

REEVES: Officials say nearly three hundred people were injured and many seriously in the attacks around the city. At this crowded Mumbai hospital, anxious relatives are awaiting news. Dr. Shashi Pavah(ph) has been working all night.

Dr. SHASHI PAVAH (Indian Doctor, Mumbai): Twenty percent of the total patients which we have, they are gone. They were almost something - suffering from the burn injuries due to the explosives. And other 80 percent were suffering injuries due to the bullet injuries like, you know, like (unintelligible), the bullet penetrated throughout the body and out.

Mr. PETER KEEP(ph) (British Businessman): Mumbai is a very vibrant, very friendly, incredibly safe city. You know, I've been living here for four years and walk around everywhere. In the roughest areas, I've never even had my pocket picked.

REEVES: That's Peter Keep(ph), a British businessman. Keep spent most of last night at a hospital because one of his co-workers was shot and injured. His colleague was sitting in Cafe Leopold's, one of Mumbai's most popular tourist bars, when a couple of gunmen walked in and opened fire. Keep lives near the Taj Mahal Hotel. He eventually established his colleague was going to be OK and went home. This is what he saw when he got there.

Mr. KEEP: About 3:30 in the morning, flames coming out the roof of the Taj and this tower here on the right. We could hear explosions, gunfire, and people calling for help who were trapped in the rooms here.

REEVES: Tonight the people of Mumbai are trying to understand what's happened. Narajan Hajenri(ph) is a young businessman. He and many others here see these attacks as India's 9/11, considering them an attempt to undermine India's chances of becoming a world economic power.

Mr. NARAJAN HAJENRI (Indian Businessman): This is probably equal to the World Trade Center because the Taj and the Oberoi are the symbols of, you know, growth. And most of the business leaders and all, they congregate over here at the Taj or the Oberoi.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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