Indian commandoes continued to fight four terrorists inside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, a full 24 hours after the terrorists stormed the luxury hotel, located just a 100 m away from the iconic Gateway of India in south Mumbai.
Although Maharashtra Director General of Police A.N. Roy told reporters that by late Thursday afternoon everyone trapped inside the hotel had been evacuated, including people taken hostage by the four militants. But a highly placed security source told HT that hostages remained inside. “About 50 people are still under the control of the militants,” said the source, who declined to be identified.
The militants entered the hotel at 9.30 pm on Wednesday and opened fire on the ground floor, inaugurating a night of terror for the at least 250 people that security officials estimated were trapped inside the hotel. They included tens of foreigners.
Through the night, the militants wreaked havoc on the beautiful hotel, setting fire to three places, periodically setting off explosions and firing their weapons.
The Taj was just one of several high-profile locations in south Mumbai that the fidayeen (suicide squad) attacked on Wednesday night in the worst terror strike this city has seen. They seem to have deliberately targeted places with high concentrations of Westerners.
About eight to ten people died in the Taj attack, according to Ravindra Singh, a chef at the hotel who had left early that day. “We were all taking it pretty easy until the dome exploded,” said Bhisham Mansukhani, 31, a journalist who was attending a friend’s reception in the hotel when the terrorists attacked.
“We were packed in a narrow passageway and the slightest panic could have created a stampede,” he said. “The closest I came to the attackers was when this man running ahead of me was shot. I thought we were gone.”
Mansukhani was evacuated at 9 am on Thursday. “None of us were convinced we were safe until we had reached the police station,” he said.
The National Security Guards and Naval Commandos stormed the hotel at 6.30 am on Thursday. At 3.30 am, there was a huge explosion at the dome, shattering window panes and set fire to the topmost, fifth floor. According to the police, the serial attacks began with firing at Café Leopold at 9.15 pm. About 15 minutes later, four fidayeen stormed into the Taj, opened fire in the Shamiana café on the ground floor, then went to the swimming pool area and threw a hand grenade. From there, there went up to the rooms and started locking people in.