Sunday, November 30, 2008

NEW DELHI | Ten terrorists who launched a wave of deadly attacks on Bombay last week wanted to create an Indian 9/11 and kill 5,000 people, according to a state official and information obtained from one of the captured gunmen.

“We found bullets with them, hand grenades, bombs,” R.R. Patil, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra state, said at a news conference in Bombay on Saturday. “Based on our investigation, we believe they had planned to kill 5,000 people.”

Nearly 200 people, including six Americans and 12 other foreigners, were killed in the three days of attacks, which ended Saturday morning. The death toll was expected to rise with the discovery of more bodies now that authorities have access to all of the sites where the attacks took place.

A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen — a name suggesting origins inside India — claimed responsibility.

But the captured terrorist, identified as 21-year-old Azam Amir Kasav, is said to be Pakistani and reportedly said part of his group’s mission was to destroy the historic Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels, replicating the attacks on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September. The men, nine of whom were killed, had enough explosives to reduce the hotels to rubble, authorities said.

A couple of the attackers had worked at the hotels and were well-acquainted with the layouts of the buildings. Mr. Kasav confessed to booking rooms at the Taj to store explosives. The Hindustan Times reported that in one four- to five-hour gun battle, militants retreated through a hidden door in the hotel that Indian troops did not know existed.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Kasav and another gunman attacked the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station before killing top police officers. A journalist who arrived at the scene soon after the attacks told The Washington Times, “I can’t get that sight out of my mind. Bodies were lying everywhere.”

The journalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he had seen Mr. Kasav, who had “a devilish smile on his face.”

“He was calmly walking after killing so many innocent people.”

In a subsequent encounter with commandos, Mr. Kasav was shot in the hand and pretended to be dead. On the way to the hospital, police discovered he was breathing, and he was taken into custody.

Mr. Kasav told police the terrorists had been instructed to “kill till the last breath.” Each one of them was given six to seven magazines with 50 bullets each, eight hand grenades per terrorist with one AK-57, an automatic-loading revolver and a supply of dry fruits.

University of Michigan terrorism analyst Scott Atran told The Washington Times that the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) might be responsible for the attacks.

“LeT has been training people with Taliban in Afghanistan lately and may have set up a hybrid operation with local sympathizers in India,” he said. “They did a dry run from Karachi to Bombay by sea last year.”

Mr. Kasav reportedly told his interrogators that the group left Karachi in a hijacked boat after killing its crew. One newspaper photograph showed one of the men lying on the floor of the small trawler with his hands tied behind his back and his throat cut. En route to Bombay by sea, the terrorists also killed one coast guard officer and forced another to help them reach their destination before they killed him.

The terrorists transferred their arms and ammunition to speedboats, and on reaching Bombay’s shores split up into groups. They attacked the Taj Mahal hotel, Oberoi-Trident hotel, a Jewish center and the train station.

Soldiers continued their room-by-room sweep of the Taj late Saturday to make sure all trapped guests had been evacuated and that no gunmen remained hidden inside.

“Many unexploded hand grenades were lying on the corridors. We want to defuse them and only then want to declare the building safe,” said J.K. Dutt, the chief of the National Security Guard.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday pledged his cooperation with the investigation in an interview broadcast on Indian television, saying that if “any evidence points to any individual or group in my part of the country, I shall take the strictest of action in light of the evidence and in front of the world.”

President Bush on Saturday extended his condolences and support to the Indian people and government. “The killers that struck this week are brutal and violent. But terror will not have the final word,” he said at the White House. “The people of India are resilient, the people of India are strong. They’ve built a vibrant, multiethnic democracy that can withstand this trial.”

“As the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side,” he said.

President-elect Barack Obama offered his condolences to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a telephone call on Saturday and said he would be monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, thousands attended funerals for top police officers killed in the operation that lasted close to 60 hours and was India’s longest terrorist drama.

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