MUMBAI, India (AP) — It took just 10 young men armed with rifles and grenades to terrorize this city of 18 million and turn its postcard-perfect icons into battlefields until security forces ended one of the deadliest attacks in India’s history early Saturday.
After the final siege at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, adoring crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven commandos dressed in black fatigues, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. One of the commandos said he had been awake for nearly 60 hours since the assault began Wednesday. Another sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.
“What happened is disgusting,” said Suresh Thakkar, 59, who reopened his clothing store behind the hotel Saturday for the first time since the attacks. “It will be harder to recover, but we will recover. Bombay people have a lot of spirit and courage.”
The bloody rampage carried out by suspected Muslim militants at 10 sites across Mumbai, the nation’s financial capital formerly known as Bombay, killed at least 195 people and wounded 295. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans.
Orange flames and dark smoke engulfed the Taj Mahal after dawn Saturday as Indian forces killed the last three militants with grenades and gunfire. Hours after the fire fight, parts of the landmark hotel were in shambles, its corner facade charred black and a red carpet leading to double doors littered with broken glass.
“Suddenly no one feels safe or secure,” said Joe Sequeira, the manager of a popular restaurant near the Oberoi hotel, another site targeted in the attacks. “It will take time. People are scared but they will realize it’s no use being scared and sitting at home.”
While soldiers scoured the massive 565-room Taj Mahal for any remaining captives and defused booby traps, a city known for its resilience in the face of tragedy began mourning and cremating its dead. At least 20 killed in the fighting were members of security forces.
A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen – a name suggesting origins inside India – has claimed responsibility. But Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman, now in custody, was from Pakistan and voiced suspicions of their volatile neighbor. Nine other attackers were killed, they said.
Each new detail about the attackers raised more questions. Who trained the militants, who were so well prepared they carried bags of almonds to keep their energy up? What role, if any, did archrival Pakistan play in the attack? And how did so few assailants, who looked like college students, wreak so much damage?
Pakistan denied it was involved and demanded evidence for Indian charges. Islamabad has pledged to share intelligence with its rival neighbor but went back on its initial promise to send its spy chief to aid the probe, saying it would send a lower ranking official instead.
As officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan, some Indians looked inward and expressed anger at their own government.
“People are worried, but the key difference is anger,” said Rajesh Jain, chief executive officer at a brokerage firm, Pranav Securities. “People are worked up about the ineffectiveness of the administration. Does the government have the will, the ability to tackle the dangers we face?”
On Saturday, officials said they believed that just 10 gunmen had taken part in the attacks. The sole survivor, identified a Pakistani national, Mohammad Ajmal Qasam, was being interrogated, officials said.
The gunmen were as brazen as they were well trained, using sophisticated weapons, GPS technology and mobile and satellite phones to communicate, authorities said.
“They were constantly in touch with a foreign country,” said R.R. Patil, deputy to the chief of Maharashtra state’s chief, without giving further details.
“Whenever they were under a little bit of pressure they would hurl a grenade. They freely used grenades,” said Dutt.
Suspicions in Indian media quickly settled on the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help wage its clandestine war against India in disputed Kashmir.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said some “signatures of the attack” were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.
U.S. officials were worried about a possible surge in violence between Pakistan and India – the nuclear armed rivals have fought three wars against each other, two over Kashmir – and were sending FBI agents to India to help investigate.
President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support for the investigation, saying the killers “will not have the final word.”
“As the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side,” Bush added in a brief address from the White House.
Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the attack sites.
The Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.
The trawler, named Kuber, had been found Thursday and was brought to Mumbai, a peninsula surrounded by the Arabian Sea, said Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar. Authorities suspect the boat had sailed from a port in the neighboring state of Gujarat.
The fighting narrowed to the Taj Mahal hotel on Friday night, hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found at least eight hostages dead Friday.
The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. At least two Israelis and another American were also killed in the house, said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said nine bodies had been found in the center.
Among the foreigners killed in the attacks were six Americans, according to the U.S. Embassy. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.
By Saturday night the death toll was at 195, the country’s deadliest attack since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.
In the southern city of Bangalore, black clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.
“He gave up his own life to save the others,” said J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite commando unit.