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Mumbai begins to heal after rampage

india Updated: Nov 30, 2008 16:33 IST
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This crowded, bustling financial capital, wracked by three days bloodshed, slowly began puling itself back together Sunday as a once-besieged restaurant reopened its doors and Indians mourned their dead.

A day after the siege ended, corpses were still being brought out of the ritzy Taj Mahal hotel where three suspected Muslim militants made a last stand before Indian commandos killed them in a blaze of gunfire and explosions.

Sunday morning found the landmark waterfront hotel, popular among foreign tourists and Indian society, surrounded by metal barricades, its shattered windows boarded over. At the famous Gateway of India basalt arch nearby, a shrine of candles, flowers and messages commemorated victims.

"We have been to two funerals already," said Mumbai resident Karin Dutta as she lay small bouquet of white flowers for several friends killed in the hotel. "We're going to another one now." At least 174 people were massacred in the rampage carried out by gunmen at 10 sites across Mumbai starting Wednesday night. One site, the Cafe Leopold, a famous tourist restaurant and scene of one of the first attacks, opened for the first time since the attacks on Sunday afternoon.

The death toll was revised down Sunday from 195 after authorities said some bodies were counted twice, but they said it could rise again as areas of the Taj Mahal were still being searched. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans. Nine attackers were killed.

The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

"Suddenly no one feels safe or secure," said Joe Sequeira, the manager of a popular restaurant near the Oberoi hotel, another site targeted in the attacks. "It will take time. People are scared but they will realize it's no use being scared and sitting at home." A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen _ a name suggesting origins inside India _ has claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 170 people. But Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman, now in custody, was from Pakistan and voiced suspicions of their neighbor. Pakistan denied it was involved and demanded evidence. The assaults have raised fears among U.S. officials about a possible surge in violence between Pakistan and India _ the nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars against each other, two over the disputed region of Kashmir.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a rare meeting of leaders from the country's main political parties to discuss the situation Sunday.

Each new detail about the attackers raised more questions. Who trained the militants, who were so well prepared they carried bags of almonds to keep their energy up? What role, if any, did archrival Pakistan play in the attack? And how did so few assailants, who looked like college students, wreak so much damage? As officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan, some Indians looked inward and expressed anger at their own government. "People are worried, but the key difference is anger," said Rajesh Jain, chief executive officer at a brokerage firm, Pranav Securities. "People are worked up about the ineffectiveness of the administration. Does the government have the will, the ability to tackle the dangers we face?"

The gunmen were as brazen as they were well trained, using sophisticated weapons as well as GPS technology and mobile and satellite phones to communicate, officials said. The group made repeated contact with an unidentified foreign country. The investigation suggested the attackers planned to massacre 5,000 people, said R.R. Patil, deputy to the chief of Maharashtra state, without giving further details.

"Whenever they were under a little bit of pressure they would hurl a grenade. They freely used grenades," said J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite commando unit.

Suspicions in Indian media quickly settled on the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help wage its clandestine war against India in disputed Kashmir.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said some "signatures of the attack" were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.

President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support for the investigation, saying the killers "will not have the final word." FBI agents were sent to India to help with the probe. "As the people of the world's largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of world's oldest democracy to stand by their side," Bush added in a brief address from the White House.

The Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.

It was the country's deadliest terrorist act since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people.

Associated Press writers Ravi Nessman, Ramola Talwar Badam, Erika Kinetz and Anita Chang contributed to this report from Mumbai, and Foster Klug and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed from Washington.