Indian commandos have stormed a Jewish centre taken by terrorists in Mumbai, as they attempt to free hostages and target gunman across the city.
After dropping thunderflashes to create a diversion, troops in black abseiled from a helicopter onto the roof of the building before entering to confront the terrorists. Gunfire could be heard from outside.
The centre was one of several targets in the city attacked by Islamist gunmen, who some reports claim could include British-born Pakistanis.
Across the city, operations to evacuate tourists held hostage in two hotels were underway, and police officers said the end of the seige was in sight.
Foreign and Indian guests were evacuated from the Taj Mahal and Trident Oberoi hotels room by room and were escorted into waiting buses and cars. One man held a baby in his arms.
At least one of the 25 captives released from the Oberoi Hotel was British.
The group, which also included at least two Americans, were rushed to waiting cars.
A man, who said he was British but would not give his name, said: "I didn't see anything. I just heard loud blasts.
"I was in my room. I didn't get out till an hour ago."
"Last night I ran out of water too."
The operation by troops at the Oberoi Hotel would be wrapped up within two hours, the state's chief minister said.
The chief of one commando unit flushing out militants at the Taj Mahal said that he saw 12 to 15 bodies in one room.
British citizen Nicole Griffen described how Indian special forces screened those escaping from the Taj Mahal to root out any attackers.
She told Radio 5 Live: "They entered and looked through our passports and scouted around to see if there were [anyone] harbouring terrorists or attackers and then we were promptly told where to go by the central stairway and again we were asked to wait with other guests while they checked other floors and checked other rooms and we all congregated into one space where they could protect us centrally."
At the Jewish centre, officials said an unknown number of hostages, including Israelis, were believed to be held inside by three gunmen.
Soldiers had taken up positions on stairs and balconies around the outside of the building as equipment was dropped from the helicopter hovering above.
The Israeli embassy denied any Israeli forces were involved in the assault.
Intermittent loud explosions and rapid gunfire were heard from inside Nariman House, a business and residential complex where the Jewish centre is located.
The violence - aimed at Western targets – has killed 130 people, including a British tycoon.
The authorities blamed militants from Pakistan-ruled Kashmir for the bloodbath, which left 125 dead and at least 327 injured after simultaneous attacks on at least seven targets in Mumbai (formerly Bombay).
Indian officials said the terrorists had “pretended” to be Indians, but that one who was captured appeared to be from Pakistan.
News channel NDTV reported that "British citizens of Pakistani origin" were among the attackers.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have seen the media reports but we are not aware of anything giving any credence to those reports at the moment."
The Hindu newspaper has claimed that three of the militants confessed they are members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group.
Officials said the death toll was likely to rise once burnt-out rooms in the hotels could be checked for bodies.
Mumbai's central railway station, a hospital, police station, cinema and a Jewish centre - where two large explosions were heard - were among other targets hit by the terrorists, who sailed by boat to the peninsula before fanning out in several dinghies and landing on the shore close to their predetermined targets.
The killers specifically targeted British and American visitors when they attacked the Oberoi and Taj Mahal luxury hotels, ordering receptionists to give them a list of the names and room numbers of all British and US guests and demanding that hostages declared their nationalities.
At least five Britons are being treated in hospital after being injured in the shootings, and many more are feared to be among those still inside the hotels.
As Indian commandos fought their way through the corridors of the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi – both of which had earlier been set on fire by the terrorists – Mr Abell, from London, said he had barricaded his door and was "hunkering down for the long term".
He said: "I'm holed up in my room, with furniture blockading the door. The British consul knows I'm here, and I've been told to sit tight and wait. Whether that will be for an hour, a day, a week, nobody knows."
The British man killed in the attacks was named as Andreas Liveras, 73, who was gunned down moments after he phoned the BBC from inside the Taj Mahal hotel to give an eyewitness account of the terrorist attacks.
Before he was hit, Mr Liveras, who built a £315 million fortune from his eponymous luxury yacht charter business, described how he had just sat down for dinner at the Taj Mahal when the shooting began.
"We heard the machine gunfire outside in the corridor," he said. "We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon.
"There must be more than a thousand people here. Nobody comes in this room and nobody goes out, and we really don't know. Everybody is just living on their nerves."
The Indian home ministry estimated 20 to 30 people were being held hostage at the Oberoi, while its owners estimated 200 people were inside.
Two retired teachers from Hexham in Northumberland were among those shot in the first of the attacks, in the Café Leopold, at 9.30pm local time (4pm GMT) on Wednesday.
Michael Murphy, 59, was shot in the ribs and is in intensive care after having his spleen removed. His wife Diane, 58, who was shot in the foot, said: "It was mayhem. There were so many casualties. It was carnage. There were obviously people injured and others who were dead."
Mrs Murphy said there were at least 100 people in the café when the shooting began.
"All of a sudden there was automatic gunfire," she said. "The whole place fell apart. It was tremendously loud. My husband and I were hit, as were lots of people. Everybody was down on the ground."
Alan Jones, from South Wales, was staying at the Oberoi Hotel on business when it was attacked. He said: "We took the lift to the lobby and heard bangs as the door opened. Two Japanese men riding with us got out, but immediately signalled for us to go back in the lift.
"As they got back in, a bullet hit one of the Japanese men in the back of the leg. Flesh and blood splattered everywhere.
"I looked up to see one of the gunmen was approaching. I tried to close the door, but the injured guy's leg was preventing it from closing.
"I frantically pressed the 'close door' button, but had to move the shot man's foot for the door to close."
Mr Jones escaped after being guided by staff to a basement via another lift.
Hugh Brown, who was staying at the Taj Mahal, took refuge in a library area with a large group of people, one of whom later turned out to be a terrorist.
He told Sky News: "We were let out at one point at about 2.30am. There was a gunman who had been in among us in the room for the best part of the evening. He pretended to be one of us in the room.
"When he got out with us, he started shooting some of the people as they were leaving the room."
The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said the attacks were "well planned and well-orchestrated... intended to create a sense of panic by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners".
David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that the attacks bore some hallmarks of al-Qaeda but it was too early to say if the network was behind the deadly assaults.
“It is very premature to start talking about links to Al-Qaeda,” he said. “Some of the names of groups that are being circulated at the moment are not al-Qaeda affiliates, but that cannot be taken as a definitive view.”
The Mainstream Media are already in the process of demeaning and dehumanizing the Jewish victims of the Mumbai massacre
Chabad of Mumbai
We mourn the loss of Rabbi Gavriel and Leah Holzberg during the terrorist attack in IndiaA fund has been established to help the family and rebuild Chabad in Mumbai which was seriously damaged during the attack
You really have no idea how much good Chabad does for this planet. Even in this period of mourning, Chabad is busy providing relief for the victims of the Mumbai attacks and the community in Mumbai.
Please give generously
UPDATE: Mumbai-Based Rabbi and Wife Killed in Terrorist Attacks
|Rabbi Gavriel, left, and Rivkah Holtzberg were killed in one of the worst terrorist attacks in Indian history. Here, they're seen attending to the wedding of a local Jewish couple.|
Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory.
Jewish communities around the world reacted with shock to the loss of the couple, who were killed Thursday at their Chabad House during an apparent standoff between Indian military forces and terrorists.
Their toddler son, Moshe, managed to escape with his nanny some hours before Indian commandos stormed their building, known as the Nariman House, in the popular touristy neighborhood of Colaba. The Associated Press reported that the boy was unharmed, but was wearing blood-soaked pants.
"Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. "As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting businesspeople.
"For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty," continued the statement. "Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started."
|One of the Mumbai terrorists is seen in a closed-circuit television image at a central train station Wednesday night.|
The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small local Jewish community, visiting businesspeople and the throngs of tourists, many of them Israeli, who annually travel to the seaside city.
Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents, when he was nine. A prodigious student, Holtzberg was a two-time champion in a competition of memorizing the Mishnah, a compendium of rabbinical laws and enactments redacted in the second century C.E.
He studied at yeshivas in New York and Argentina, and as a rabbinical student served communities in Thailand and China under the Summer Rabbinical Visitation Program run by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.
His 28-year-old wife, born Rivkah Rosenberg, is a native of Afula, Israel. Chayki Rosenberg described her sister as dedicated to helping Jews.
She "gives lots of classes for women at the Chabad House," Rosenberg told The Jerusalem Post.
Friends described her as always having a positive outlook and a kind word for everyone.
Two years ago, the Holtzbergs raised funds to purchase the current location of the Chabad House, a five-story building in Mumbai's Colaba market area known as Narimon House. A trained ritual circumciser and slaughterer, the rabbi also conducted weddings for local Jewish couples in addition to teaching Torah classes and visiting with tourists.
His last known phone call was to the Israeli Consulate to report that gunmen were in his house. In the middle of the conversation, the line went dead.
The Holtzbergs joined the more than 125 people who were killed in the Wednesday night through Friday attacks, which saw dozens of suspected Islamic terrorists come ashore in Mumbai near the Gateway of India monument. The terrorists, carrying assault rifles and grenades, quickly fanned out to a central train station, the Chabad House and other tourist locations, including several popular hotels.
According to security services, the Chabad House was a pre-selected target.
|Rivkah Holtzberg cuts the ribbon at the grand opening of a Jewish ritual bath in Mumbai.|
A team of 15 Chabad-Lubavitch representatives in California, New York, Washington, Israel, India and Bangkok worked the phones throughout the crisis, spending long, sleepless nights awaiting any morsel of information and working to confirm at-times conflicting reports from the field. Hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world prayed for the Holtzbergs, saying Psalms in their merit.
The local police in Mumbai and the highest reaches of the Indian government got involved, but military assault teams first concentrated their efforts on the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, where hundreds of foreign tourists were either holed up or being held hostage. When they finally entered the Chabad House on Friday, they found that the worst had occured.
Rivky Holtzberg's parents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg arrived in Mumbai early Friday morning to bring their now-orphaned grandson home to family.
To contribute to a fund established to aid relief efforts in Mumbai, go to www.ChabadIndia.org.
This story will be updated as new information becomes available.
A press comference will be given by Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of the Educational and Social Services arms of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement at 12:30pm at the Jewish Children's Museum, 792 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY.