Terrorists Paralyze India's Business Capital
India's business capital was brought to a standstill as army and police continued to fight suspected Islamic militants in the heart of the usually bustling metropolis, marking a dramatic escalation of radical Islam's war against the world's largest democracy.
The coordinated, commando-style assault on Mumbai's luxury hotels, its historic train station, a Jewish center and other targets began Wednesday night, and marked the most audacious in a string of terror attacks to shake this majority-Hindu nation in recent years.
Friday morning, local time -- more than 35 hours after the initial attacks -- Indian commandos launched an all-out push to seize the Jewish center, where gunmen still held hostages. Helicopter-borne commados were dropped into the area. Intensive exchanges of gunfire could be heard.
Elsewhere in downtown Mumbai, Indian forces appeared to have made progress in flushing terrorists from other beseiged buildings. Earlier in the day, forces swept the famed Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel and the Oberoi Trident hotel for hostages, encountering sporadic resistance. But as of Friday morning, a small number of militants still remained in parts of both hotels.
About 120 people, including Mumbai's anti-terrorism chief and several foreigners, were reported killed in the attacks; more than 300 were injured.
With gun volleys still ringing out Friday morning and a major fire blazing in the Oberoi Trident, Indian officials were just beginning to piece together their investigation. Almost immediately, several blamed traditional arch-enemy Pakistan.
While not mentioning Pakistan by name, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to 'take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated.'
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both condemned the bloodshed in Mumbai.
The scale and sophistication of the Mumbai attacks, as well as the choice of targets, however, appeared to point to a more insidious threat that the Indian government has been reluctant to acknowledge so far -- the potential involvement of extremists within the country's own Muslim community, which, at 150 million, is the world's third-largest after Indonesia and Pakistan. It is also one of India's most economically and politically disadvantaged minorities.
In a statement that couldn't be independently authenticated, a previously unknown group, the Deccan Mujahideen, claimed responsibility for the Mumbai operation, describing itself as hailing from the south Indian city of Hyderabad. Hyderabad was the world's largest Muslim-ruled monarchy until it was invaded and annexed by India in 1948.
Indian security officials cast doubt on this statement, saying that the attacks bore the hallmarks of Al Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups. They also claimed to have found a boat on which ammunition for the attacks was allegedly smuggled from Pakistan. That couldn't be confirmed.
While independent security experts said it's likely that the attackers received some support from like-minded radicals in Pakistan, they also stressed that such a massive operation would have been nearly impossible without a deep-rooted local network inside India itself.
India's Muslims, some of them still nostalgic for a medieval golden age when most of the subcontinent was under Muslim dominion, are among the country's poorest communities, partly because much of the Muslim professional class emigrated to Pakistan at partition in 1947.
In addition to being disproportionately targeted in outbreaks of religious violence, they are severely underrepresented in the country's government bureaucracy, universities and security services. On literacy scores, young Indian Muslims now lag behind even the country's historically most disadvantaged group, the Dalits, or Hinduism's 'untouchables.'
India's main stock exchange was closed on Thursday, some international flights were canceled at Mumbai's airport, and the city's central business district had the feel of a ghost town as most shops remained shuttered and occasional gunfire crackled.
'Business won't come back for one year at least,' said Vijay K. Hegiste, who owns a tobacco shop around the corner from the Taj hotel. 'No one is going to come.'
How India will respond to the attack is already shaping up as a central issue for upcoming elections in several states, and for the country's general elections due before May next year.
Addressing the country on television Thursday, Prime Minister Singh promised to prevent similar attacks in the future. He said India will create a new federal investigative agency and tighten legislation 'to ensure that there are no loopholes available to terrorists to escape the clutches of the law.'
Some in Mumbai's large Muslim community fear the attacks may stir the upcoming political campaigns, aware that such controversies can easily end up in religious clashes. 'Elections are coming around the corner -- and the politicians want the vote banks,' said garment merchant Mohammed Salim, as he watched riot police surround a building known as Nariman House in his Colaba neighborhood.
Yaroslav Trofimov / Peter Wonacott
在孟买市区的其它地方，印度军方在清剿藏匿于其它建筑物内的恐怖分子方面似乎取得了进展。周五早些时候，军队对知名的泰姬陵酒店(Taj Mahal Palace & Tower)和奥比欧酒店(Oberoi Trident Hotel)进行了彻底搜查，在解救人质过程中遇到了零星的抵抗。但截至周五上午，这两个酒店中仍盘踞着少数武装分子。
巴基斯坦总统扎尔达里(Asif Ali Zardari)和总理吉拉尼(Yousaf Raza Gilani)都谴责了孟买的这起流血事件。
在泰姬陵酒店旁的街角上经营香烟店的Vijay K. Hegiste说，估计生意至少要一年才能恢复正常。没有人会来这里。
孟买一些大型穆斯林团体担心这次袭击可能会扰乱即将到来的政治活动，他们担心这方面的争论很容易演变成宗教冲突。在Colaba区，服装商人穆罕默德•萨林(Mohammed Salim)一边看着包围他附近的Nariman House大楼的防暴警察一边说，很快就要选举了，而政治家们都想争取到大量支持者。
Yaroslav Trofimov / Peter Wonacott