- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2008

BOMBAY | The attackers came by sea, on a small skiff, and made their way in the dark through narrow streets to a yellow, six-story apartment building called Nariman House, a Bombay center for Jewish life.

Forty-eight hours later, a series of loud explosions signaled a bloody finale to a siege that ended with the deaths of at least five people, including a New York rabbi and his wife.

Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28, were among the more than 150 victims of the terror attacks that began in Bombay Wednesday night, Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin told the Associated Press in New York.

He said that an employee of the ultra-Orthodox center rescued the couple’s son, Moshe, who was taken to his grandparents and turns two on Saturday. A second son was with relatives in Israel when the attack occurred.

The Holtzbergs were born in Israel, but the rabbi, who lived in Brooklyn as a child, had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, told the AP that the couple moved to Bombay five years ago to run a synagogue and help people overcome drug addiction and poverty.

“As emissaries to Bombay, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists,” Rabbi Kotlarsky said.

On Friday as the Jewish Sabbath fell, ZAKA, an Orthodox Jewish group, began collecting blood and body parts to prepare the remains for a proper Jewish burial. Authorities did not immediately identify the other three victims - a woman and two men.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s Channel 1 television that “some of the bodies were tied up.”

“To judge by the accompanying signs, some of the people were killed a good number of hours previously,” he said.

It remained unclear when the hostages died and why members of the Indian government’s elite National Security Guard decided to risk a shootout with the gunmen.

The black-clad commandos, dispatched from New Delhi, arrived in Bombay early Thursday, replacing army soldiers who were wearing jungle camouflage, twigs affixed to rounded helmets.

The commandos, armed with Rambo-style bow knives, Glock pistols and submachine guns, waited on a rooftop 30 yards from Nariman House as a gaggle of politicians, journalists and cameramen gathered around.

Every hour or so, police would clear the street, but bystanders quickly refilled surrounding alleys, lanes, rooftops and roads.

Less than a mile away, smoke rose steadily from the opulent Taj Mahal hotel. Nariman House is in a working-class neighborhood, where half-built buildings are scattered amid English Colonial-era gems.

Until Wednesday, Hindus, Muslims and Jews had cohabited the area peacefully. Locals said the owner of Nariman House was an Israeli who rented out apartments to other religious Jews. The house was home to a local chapter of the Chabad movement, a small sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews who settle around the globe, sometimes looking to court wayward Israelis, more often just quietly practicing their religion.

Thursday was a day of waiting. The windows of the house were blown out, and curtains swayed in the wind, occasionally providing a view of a wrecked interior, with no sign of life.

At 4 p.m. local time, more commandos arrived, and it appeared that a raid was imminent, but it was a false alarm.

A helicopter made a low, slow pass. The commandos took a break for tea and told reporters of their success in breaking a previous siege at a mosque in the state of Gujarat.

The rooftop, measuring about 10 by 20 feet, began to feel claustrophobic as more commandos and journalists arrived. Three men in olive uniforms rigged floodlights, adding a surreal, Bollywood-style quality to the standoff.

Shots rang out, ricocheting off nearby buildings as a sunset gave way to the incandescent glow of streetlights.

Four soldiers set up a night-vision device the size of a small telescope.

Asked what he wanted to do, a mustachioed commando said, “Shoot - shoot and finish.”

As Friday dawned, a helicopter deposited 20 commandos on the roof of Nariman House, and it appeared that the end was near. At this point, no one knew the fate of the hostages.

More hours passed until the quiet was shattered by the sound of a grenade exploding, followed by a volley of small-arms fire aimed at a fourth-floor window. Smoke, or tear gas, wafted from the side windows, and gunfire could be heard from multiple directions for about 10 minutes, followed by a half-hour of silence, and then another volley of rounds from pistols, machine guns and sniper rifles.

As evening approached, the commandos entered a fifth-floor apartment and draped a red flag in the window, perhaps as a signal to their comrades.

Sniper teams continued shooting into the fourth floor, through broken glass and faded cream-colored curtains. Around 5 p.m., rockets were fired into the fourth floor, destroying what little remained to obscure the view into the apartment. By then, the building’s upper walls were thoroughly pockmarked and blackened with soot.

Commandos could be seen walking around the first floor and moving in the stairwell. They also leaned over the roof and shot down into the windows.

At 5:30 p.m., the fourth floor exploded, rocking all of south Bombay and sending nearby journalists onto the ground.

Commandos then entered the apartment, firing in quick succession. As darkness fell, floodlights again illuminated the side of the building. But now there was no more waiting. The last gunman had been killed.

Outside, the street filled with throngs of people cheering and chanting “India is free” and “long live mother India.”

Soon after, the ZAKA teams brought out the first of five white body bags.

“Our world is under attack. There are extremist Muslim elements who do not accept our values or our existence,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters in Jerusalem.



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