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US man recalls phone ordeal with Mumbai terrorist

world Updated: Dec 09, 2008 17:37 IST

The gunman on the phone in Mumbai said his name was Imran, he wouldn't put the hostages on the phone and besides, they were fine, they hadn't even been slapped around.

No one at Chabad House wanted any food, he claimed, his calm demeanour finally breaking into some irritation. "We haven't come here to eat and drink," he said.

On the other end of the phone, a New York City professor tried to keep his focus as he spent hours on the phone as a translator for Orthodox Jewish officials trying to talk to one of the attackers who had taken over their religious headquarters in the Indian city.

"At the beginning, I didn't know what to be thinking, I didn't know what would happen," Pace University finance professor PV Viswanath told the Associated Press on Monday.

"I had a lot of trepidation when I got on the call."

Viswanath, who grew up in Mumbai and is an Orthodox Jew, was in his office that evening at the end of last month preparing his class lessons when he got word that gunmen had attacked a number of sites in Mumbai.

He heard Chabad-Lubavitch officials were looking for help, that one of the attackers at Chabad House was answering Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg's cell phone but would only speak further in Urdu.

Viswanath, who counts Urdu among the numerous languages he speaks, was ready to help. He had visited Chabad Houses around the world, and had even been to the one in Mumbai and shared a meal with Holtzberg. He offered his assistance, and was connected to Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of American Friends of Lubavitch.

Shemtov set up conference calls, between Washington, New York, and Holtzberg's cell phone in Mumbai.