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Gunmen Seize Top Luxury Hotels in Mumbai; About 85 Killed


India's commercial capital of Mumbai remains under siege by gunmen who, in part, appeared to be targeting foreigners. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in New Delhi reports that officials say about 85 people have been killed and as many as 250 more have been injured in gunfire and explosions that have gripped much of Mumbai.

Soldiers have stormed two luxury hotels in south Mumbai to rescue guests. Terrorists seized parts of the The Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, and Oberoi Hotels late Wednesday as part of a coordinated series of attacks throughout the city.

Gunfire at the Taj hotel - several hours after the initial assault.

Authorities say terrorists also fired shots and lobbed grenades at hospitals, train stations, a restaurant and a dockyard. In a scene broadcast on Indian television, gunmen who had seized a police vehicle could be seen shooting at bystanders.

Outside the Oberoi Hotel, British businessman Rakesh Patel told reporters that two young gunmen, who looked to be about 20 years of age, began rounding up non-Indian guests.

"They wanted anyone with British or American passports," said Rakesh Patel. "So anyone with a British or American passport they wanted to know. They wanted foreigners."

Patel says he managed to escape as the gunmen tried to force a group of foreigners to higher floors of the hotel.

The scene was even more dramatic at the nearby Taj Hotel. A 105-year-old wing of the Mumbai landmark caught fire following explosions as army commandos entered the building. Screams from trapped guests could be heard on the Gateway of India waterfront across the street. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, which threatened the hotel's famous dome. But flames flared again hours later in another part of the building.

A meeting of the Korea-India Business Association had been underway in the hotel when the attack began. Media reports say more than 150 people managed to escape. Some of those who fled the hotel told reporters they had seen numerous bodies in the stairwells.

Among the dead elsewhere in the city are some of Mumbai's top law enforcement officers. A stunned Mahastraha state chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, says at least 11 policemen have been killed and that the loss of some high-ranking personnel has hampered the counter-terrorism operation.

"They laid their lives to save the lives of the civilians," said Vilasrao Deshmukh. "And really, we are under the state of shock since that the best officers are not with us now."

A previously unknown group, calling itself Deccan Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities say nine suspects have been arrested and four more suspected terrorists have been shot dead. Police say there may have been as many as 20 attackers.

Islamic militants have been blamed for past bombings in the city and other parts of India.

All of Mumbai's schools and some offices are expected to be closed throughout the day on Thursday. Officials are advising residents to remain indoors until the situation is brought under control.

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