Mumbai massacre, day three: Two Americans, five Jewish hostages dead

The standoff at the Jewish center ends predictably, with the rabbi and his wife — both from New York — gunned down. Two other Americans, a father and his 13-year-old daughter visiting on a meditational retreat, were also killed; no word yet on whether they were hit by crossfire or singled out and executed. I’ve heard total death tolls as high as 160 but there’s more to come: Unbelievably, the Hotel Taj still isn’t secure, with one room now controlled by the military having yielded as many as 12 bodies.

What’s it like inside? The Telegraph sets an ominous scene, especially in light of the point raised yesterday about Indian security being infamous for shooting haphazardly in close combat:

The commander said his men had had to literally feel their way through the hotel corridors and rooms in complete darkness.

The black-clad commando said it had been impossible to differentiate between dead bodies, the injured and people simply pressing themselves to the floor in terror.

“When an exchange of fire takes place in darkness and there are bodies strewn all over and blood all over, you’re actually not looking who is injured or killed,” he said. “You’re just looking for someone with lots of weapons on him.”

Criticism of the army’s already piling up — read the Telegraph for a sample, including an account of how reporters were able to sneak into the lobby of the Trident Hotel while fighting was still going on — but they were outflanked before the shooting began. According to the Times, jihadis checked into “control rooms” at the hotel in advance, presumably to stash weapons and coordinate the attack. Sounds like they knew the terrain cold, too:

“The terrorists were well-informed about the layout of both the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident. It’s absolutely certain that these men had done a survey of the hotel interiors before the strike on Wednesday night,” the Marcos’ commandant said.

The terrorists even knew which room had the closed-circuit television cameras, which would give them a clear view of the alleys and lobbies of the entire Taj, and reached and captured the room before the commandos did. “The terrorists hurled grenades the moment commandos neared the CCTV room and it could not be accessed because of the smoke and fire that followed,” he said.

MSNBC was touting a report from ITN earlier about rooms at the Taj having been wired with explosives. I can’t find a link online, but given the amount of planning it may be that that was also done in advance, in anticipation of the military siege. More from Rediff:

IB sources told that two teams had checked into the hotels four days before the attack, and used the time to stash away ammunition there. During their stay as guests in the hotel they also thoroughly studied its layout. On the day of the attack, an unspecified number of attackers joined them. The IB says in all there were 20 fidayeen who took part in the terror attack that terrorised Mumbai.

It is also said that while a certain number of the terrorists had already entered Mumbai and taken shelter in the two hotels, 12 more persons came into Mumbai through the sea-route. While initially it was suggested that the attackers came in from Karachi, investigators are also probing claims made by fishermen in Kerala that a ship unknown to their parts was sighted. The IB is now probing whether this was the mother ship that brought in the attackers.

Supposedly there was another boat packed with ammunition waiting so they could resupply, but how they were planning to get to that after the fighting started isn’t clear to me. Also unclear is how they managed to stay alert enough for 48 hours to keep shooting and avoid capture. I remember a passage from David Bellavia’s book about fighting the Mahdi Army where he talked about jihadis tweaking before battle to make sure they’d keep going on pure adrenaline even if they were wounded. Maybe there was more than food in those backpacks.

The good-ish news is that consensus is starting to settle on the culprit being Lashkar e-Taiba, a group I mentioned in my first post on this and the prime suspect in the Mumbai bombings two years ago. Indian intel claims that three captured jihadis are members and that one of them’s confessed. If you read only one thing I’ve linked here, make it Roggio’s background piece on LeT and what kind of logistics were needed to pull this off:

In several of those attacks, an Indian Mujahideen operative who calls himself “Arbi Hindi” e-mailed the media to claim responsibility. Arbi Hindi’s real name is Abdul Subhan Qureshi, an Indian national who is believed to be behind many of the recent terror attacks inside India. Qureshi, a computer expert, is beleived to have trained hundreds of recruits to conduct terror attacks in India. He is often called India’s Osama bin Laden.

Indian intelligence believes the Indian Mujahideen is a front group created by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami. The Indian Mujahideen was created to confuse investigators and cover the tracks of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, a radical Islamist movement, according to Indian intelligence.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami receive support from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence to destabilize India and wage war in Kashmir. Both of these terror groups are local al Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan and conduct attacks in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The Indian “occupation” of Kashmir helped spawn these groups.

If you’re wondering why the head of ISI is on his way to India, that last paragraph might offer a clue. One other ominous detail in closing: The Daily Mail claims that at least two and possibly as many as seven jihadis are British-born Pakistanis, and may even be from the same area as the London bombers. Remember, Rashid Rauf, the alleged AQ mastermind of the London airline plot who recently got a special delivery from a U.S. drone, was also British — and according to the Mail, “Security sources believe that at the time of his death Rauf had been planning a major attack on Western targets.” Maybe this was it and they took him out hoping to disrupt the plot or maybe they just got lucky, but having Brits in the mix does add an international flavor that’s unusual for Lashkar as far as I know.