By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
MUMBAI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Indian security forces regained control of Mumbai Saturday, November 29, after the worst terrorist assault in the country’s history killed nearly 200 people, including Christians and Jews, officials said. Some 60 hours after a group of gunmen threw India’s commercial capital into bloody chaos by attacking a train station, hospitals, hotels and other high profile targets, officials said all of the suspected Islamic militants were killed or captured.
However the rescue operations in this city of 18 million residents came too late for many hostages held at several locations, among them people at a Jewish center that was seized by the gunmen in Mumbai. A Jewish group, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in New York, confirmed that 29-year-old Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg from Brooklyn, New York, and his wife Rivka, 28, were killed in the movement’s Mumbai headquarters.
Four other people also died, including another rabbi from Brooklyn who was living in Israel, Leibish Teitelbaum; Bentzion Chroman, an Israeli with dual American citizenship; an unidentified Israeli woman; and another unidentified woman, according to Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a Lubavitch spokesman in Brooklyn and other reports.
In an earlier rescue, the Holtzbergs’ toddler son, Moshe, who turned two on Saturday, November 29, was spirited out of the besieged house by the family’s nanny with his clothes “soaked in blood,” according to witnesses. He was brought to his grand parents. Another special needs child of the couple was reportedly staying in Israel for medical treatment when the attack occurred. It was not immediately clear where both orphans would be placed in the future.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked for being Jewish. She said “our world is under attack” and that there are extremist Muslim elements who do not accept “our values or existence.” A Chabad spokesman in New York, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, said the men who attacked the Jewish center had initially seized a police vehicle, which he says enabled them to approach the building.
The Jewish center contains a synagogue and kosher cafeteria primarily used by Israelis and other Jewish visitors to Mumbai. Jews were not the only targets in this mainly Hindu nation. The director of Christian aid group Imcares, Timothy Gaikwad, told Germany’s evangelical news agency Idea that he expected to find Christians among those who died. He said there were Christian visitors in the Taj Mahal hotel, one of 10 targets attacked by the militants. There were also Christians among hotel personnel, he added.
Survivors told Indian television how staff members first rescued them, putting themselves heroically in the line of fire. Taj Mahal Hotel general manager Karambir Singh Kang continued to oversee rescue operations even after losing his own wife and two children in the hostage drama, Indian media reported. Kang stood helplessly outside the hotel as his 40-year-old wife Niti , and children Uday, 14, and Samar, 5, burnt to death in their hotel room. ” I don’t even know what has actually happened and what else is in store for me,” he was quoted as saying.
The attacks began late Wednesday, November 26, at at the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, one of the world’s busiest, where at least two men unleashed automatic weapons fire and lobbed grenades into a crowd of travellers in the main waiting hall, according to witnesses and video footage. They reportedly left behind a pile of nearly 50 bodies — and images of their own calm, composed faces caught by security cameras.
Evading capture, the gunmen then attacked a charitable hospital for women and children, the Cama Hospital, shooting indiscriminately, several news reports said. Police responded, including the head of Mumbai’s Anti-Terror Squad, Hemant Karkare, who was shot dead outside the hospital along with two other senior officers.
Another group attacked Cafe Leopold, one of Mumbai’s best-known restaurants and a favoured haunt of tourists and expatriates. Elsewhere militants used a hijacked police vehicle for drive-by shootings, before moving on to the main targets — symbols of Mumbai’s wealth and multicultural character.
The objectives were two luxury hotels — the Taj Mahal, one of Mumbai’s most famous landmarks, and the Oberoi/Trident — plus eventually the Jewish centre and a hostel for Israeli visitors. Guests and staff at the Taj noticed the coming assault with sound of gunshots and blasts from the hotel’s swimming pool area. Once inside, the gunmen began rounding up hostages, news reports said. “They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts,” one British hotel guest told reporters. “They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports.”
Indian security officials said at least a dozen attackers slipped into Mumbai by sea in two small dinghies on Wednesday evening, November 26, having been dropped off near the coast by a larger ship, news agencies reported. Within 60 long hours the last remaining hostages were freed, or found dead, and militants were killed or captured.
The Indian government has blamed arch-rival Pakistan for the militant attack, but Pakistani authorities have strongly denied involvement. Pakistan has been used as a training area by militants, according to experts. Churches and Christian organizations in India condemned the terrorist attacks, saying it could undermine efforts to overcome religious tensions and poverty in this country of over one billion people. “The senseless bombings and shootings have caused turmoil and confusion, bringing disaster and fear to the community living among the people of Mumbai,” said the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife. “Several people have lost their dear ones in these attacks and the people in Mumbai are in utter trauma and shock.”
The NCCI said it “vehemently condemns these dastardly terror acts on innocent citizens,” and urged both the government and other authorities to “ensure safety to all its citizens and foreign tourists in India and to counter the inhuman acts of the terrorists.”
The organization, which represents especially the Protestant and Orthodox churches of India, said it was “praying that all forces and all forms of terrorism be defeated in this land of India, and pray that peace and harmony among people will continue to be a sustaining reality.”
However the director of mission group Gospel for Asia, K.P. Yohannan, cautioned the terror attacks will undermine religious relations and impact especially the impoverished Dalits, seen as the ‘lowest caste’ in India’s ancient system of Hinduism.
There has been a growing Christian movement among the Dalits, according to missionaries. “This [attack] is definitely going to scare foreign investment,and that is ultimately going to hurt the Dalits and others at the bottom of India’s caste system,” Yohannan said. “Usually a nation has to remain in poverty for these extremists to keep their hold, and this could be a plot, because without foreign investment, the Dalits will remain in poverty.”
He said his group realized that “only the Gospel of Christ can change human hearts, regardless of caste, race or religion. That is why we must pray for India at this time.”