MUMBAI, India – Teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular tourist attraction and a crowded train station in at least seven attacks in India’s financial capital, killing at least 80 people and wounding at least 200, officials said Thursday. The gunmen were specifically targeting Britons and Americans and a top police official said the gunmen are holding hostages at two luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels.
A media report said a little-known group, the Deccan Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility for the Mumbai terrorist attacks. The Press Trust of India news agency said Thursday the group sent emails to several media outlets.
The gunmen also attacked police headquarters in south Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks, which began late Wednesday and continued into Thursday morning, took place.
“We are under fire, there is shooting at the gate,” said constable A. Shetti by phone from police headquarters.
Hours after the first attacks, A.N. Roy, a senior police officer, said police continued to battle the gunmen.
“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed, the encounters are still going on and we are trying to overpower them,” Roy said.
Johnny Joseph, chief secretary for Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said 80 people had been killed and 200 had been injured.
The motive for the attacks was not immediately clear but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terror attacks, often blamed on Muslim militants, including a series of blasts in July 2007 that killed 187 people.
Gunmen opened fire on two of the city’s best known luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi. They also attacked the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in southern Mumbai and Leopold’s restaurant, a Mumbai landmark.
A British restaurant-goer at the Oberoi told Sky News television that the attackers were singling out Britons and Americans.
Alex Chamberlain said a gunman, a young man of 22 or 23, ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and ordered everyone to put up their hands.
“They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ‘Where are you from?” and he said he’s from Italy and they said ‘fine’ and they left him alone. And I thought: ‘Fine, they’re going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn’t,” he said.
Chamberlain said the gunman spoke in Hindi or Urdu.
He managed to slip away from the group as they were forced to walk up the stairs, but said most of the group was still being kept hostage.
Early Thursday morning, several European lawmakers were among those still barricaded inside the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city’s best-known destinations.
“I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside,” said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a forthcoming EU-India summit. He turned to get away “and all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us … I just turned and ran in the opposite direction,” he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.
Hours later, he remained holed up in a hotel restaurant, unsure if the incident was over, and whether it was safe to come out.
At the Oberoi, police officer P.I. Patil said shots had been fired inside and the hotel had been cordoned off. He would not give any other details.
The Press Trust of India news agency quoted Mumbai General Railway Police Commissioner A.K. Sharma as saying that several men armed with rifles and grenades were holed up in the train station.
Leopold’s restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood stains on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
At least 25 people had been brought to the G.T. Hospital near the shootings, said hospital official Yogesh Pandey.
India has been wracked by deadly bomb attacks in recent years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Since October 2005, nearly 700 people have died in the bombings. And since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen had taken credit for a string of blasts that have killed more than 130.
The most recent was in September when a series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100 others.
Mumbai has been hit repeatedly by terror attacks since March 1993, when Muslim underworld figures tied to Pakistani militants allegedly carried out a series of bombings on Mumbai’s stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations. Authorities say those attacks, which killed 257 people and wounded more than 1,100, were carried out to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in religious riots which had swept India.
Ten years later, in 2003, 52 people were killed in Mumbai bombings blamed on Muslim militants and in July 2007 a series of seven blasts ripped through railway trains and commuter rail stations. At least 187 died in those attacks.
Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India’s population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have been relatively peaceful since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947. But there have been sporadic bouts of violence.