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THE SITUATION ROOM
Coordinated Attack on Multiple Locations in Mumbai
Aired November 26, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, terror in India. Americans reportedly targeted in a series of attacks with guns and grenades. New details are coming in on the death toll. And we have reports of western hostages.
Plus, an uncomfortable question for Barack Obama. Is his growing economic team packed with Clinton era retreads? This hour, the new additions and a testy exchange to tell you about.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.
You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we begin with the breaking news from India, a coordinated attack on multiple locations in the nation's financial capital, Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. A state official now says 78 people have been killed.
Attackers with automatic weapons and grenades targeted locations, including two luxury hotels frequented by westerners, a popular restaurant, a railway station and a hospital. There are reports coming in that the attackers demanded passports and were seeking out U.S. and British nationals Mumbai police say gunmen are holding hotel customers hostage, perhaps as many as 15.
So far, no claim of responsibility. But this is set in the context of Muslim terrorism in Mumbai and in India, which has been ongoing in recent years.
CNN's Andrew Stevens is on the phone from Mumbai now. He is in the middle of this scene.
This is a city that is paralyzed right now, Andrew. Set the scene for us.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, for the last three hours, this has been a city becoming increasingly in lockdown. We are still in the middle of an ongoing situation. We cannot say yet just how big the scale of this is.
There have been, as you say, multiple attacks on multiple targets. At the moment, there is, as we understand it, a hostage situation in both of these two five-star hotels, the Taj Palace Hotel, which is probably the best known hotel in Mumbai, and the Oberoi hotel, which is only about five minutes' drive away from the Taj.
Now, what we have been hearing and what I have heard from an eyewitness, an eyewitness who was interviewed on local television here, he said he was in the Taj. He saw two gunmen coming down into the lobby where there were guests.
They rounded up some 15 people, 15 hotel guests. He said they were asking anyone whether anyone had British or American passports.
He said several were taken by the hostages. He could not give numbers. And I just want to repeat, I cannot personally confirm this. We have not been told this by the authorities. So that's what is being told on air at the moment.
So there is a hostage situation in both the Taj. We're also being told there are gunmen on the roof of that hotel lobbing hand grenades at anti-terror specialists operatives on the ground.
Five minutes away, the Oberoi Hotel, there is also a hostage situation there. We have fewer details about that at the moment. But also reports coming in that there may have been firing in another hotel in another part of the city. So we don't know actually whether this is confined to this southern area of Mumbai, where I am, or it's actually spreading out across the city at this stage.
I spoke to an eyewitness in the Taj Hotel just about five minutes ago, Miles, and he said everything there had been dead quiet for the last hour or so. But he's been told -- he's sitting in a room. The lights are off. There's no television, there's no communication. He was just told by the front desk to stay put and obey all advice.
O'BRIEN: All right, Andrew. Let's try to sort through this as best we can.
First of all, at this point, we're hearing reports of possibly seven locations targeted. As you say, it's a fluid situation, probably still going on. Do those numbers jive with what you're hearing there on the ground?
STEVENS: Yes, that's right. Three hotels. These two I mentioned, the Taj and the Oberoi. And the other hotel, the Ramada in the north of the city.
The hospital, the central railway station, which is a place where hundreds of thousands of people travel day and night, a very, very busy place. The Leopold (ph) Cafe, which is a very popular tourist cafe very close to the Taj, as well. And also, we're hearing reports from the domestic airport that there may have been an explosion there in or underneath a taxi. So around about seven at this stage -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: OK. So including the airport -- so is there some -- is there some concern about additional activity, additional hostage- taking or attacks? And what do we know about that?
STEVENS: Well, because the situation hasn't been brought under control, there's a huge amount of concern about what could happen next. Obviously, the international airport is being -- security is being ramped up obviously right across the city at the moment, the international airport particularly. That's what we are hearing.
Also, the government says it has dispatched some 200 commandos. And just a few minutes ago, there were pictures showing commandos arriving around the Oberoi Hotel. The navy -- there's a very big naval base in Mumbai. Both the navy and the army have been put on alert, says the government, but not actually activated.
O'BRIEN: Andrew, if you can help us understand on a typical -- it's now what, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning there.
STEVENS: Yes, 2:30 in the morning.
O'BRIEN: On a typical day midweek there, how many westerners would there be in that city, how many British nationals, how many U.S.?
STEVENS: Difficult to say, Miles, but have I been staying in the Taj. CNN has had a crew in Mumbai all week on assignment, and we've been staying in the Taj.
There would be, I would say, at least half of the guests there would be westerners. I'm pretty sure it would be the same at the Oberoi.
Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. And as you know, India is booming at the moment. So there is a lot of business, a lot of international business now happening in Mumbai.
You get a lot of people flying in from all over the place doing deals here. The Taj and the Oberoi are probably the first two, they're the top of the list for anyone coming in doing business here, wondering where to stay. They go to one of those two hotels.
Also, there's a lot of companies in here. A lot of U.S. companies coming in here. A lot of European companies coming in here, as well. So it's becoming increasingly sort of cosmopolitan, certainly.
I was here 10 years ago. It wasn't that big a western population. But these days, much much bigger.
O'BRIEN: All right. Andrew Stevens, please stand by there in Mumbai as we continue our coverage there. We'll allow to you make a few phone calls for a few moments and get a sense as we see some pictures coming in from the various agencies there and our sister network, IBN, of a panicked scene there as what appears to be a coordinated terrorist attack which might very well still be going on right now.
At least seven locations in Mumbai, on the western coast of India. And most ominously of all, it appears they've specifically targeted westerners, British and U.S. nationals, at locations where they would be frequenting Mumbai. And as Andrew Stevens said, many westerners in that city doing business in what is a boom time for India.
Let's bring in Zain Vergee, who covers the State Department for us, who's been on the phone with Foggy Bottom.
Zain, what are you hearing? ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, the State Department has issued a statement, and it's essentially condemning the attacks and offering sympathies to the people in Mumbai, as well as to friends and families of those that may have been killed or injured. The State Department is also saying that it's monitoring the situation. It supports the Indian authorities as they try and figure out and deal with this situation that's unfolding. The State Department has also said that they had are unaware of any U.S. casualties, but are checking.
We're also just learning, too, Miles from CNN's sister network IBN that commandos have entered the Oberoi Hotel where the tourists were taken hostage. Nine suspects have been detained across Mumbai by police. Navy and police, the network is reporting, are trying to enter the Taj Hotel, and there are about 100 or so tourists stuck at the Taj Hotel.
These are two luxury hotels in Mumbai. I've stayed at the Oberoi before. There's not really any extra security there, but, I mean, it's there, but it may not have been beefed up to deal with this situation.
O'BRIEN: Zain, let's be clear about this situation at the Oberoi. You stay commandos are inside that hotel. Are we to presume that the hostage situation there is over?
VERJEE: It's unclear. This is a situation that's unfolding right now.
This is also a city, Miles, that has experienced terrorist attacks in the past. Just a few years ago, about 190 people were killed in a series of commuter train bombings over rush hour.
It's important to understand that right now, many in India will say it's Pakistan, it's Muslim militants. But there's also been cases where Hindu extremists also have been arrested in the past and may also be suspected here.
I've been on the phone with Indian and Pakistani embassy officials. They said that they're talking to each other and trying to figure it out.
O'BRIEN: All right. So we won't jump to conclusions on that just yet.
Zain, you get back on the phones and continue working your sources.
Barbara Starr joining us now from the Pentagon with word on what they're hearing there.
Barbara, I assume that there is, you know, if you will, a situation room there right now for this particular incident.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Miles. I can tell you that, you know, top senior officials here who were just beginning to pack up and go home for the Thanksgiving holiday, now their phones are ringing. A lot of questions being asked. Top officials in the national command center here in the Pentagon making phone calls, trying to find out what's going on.
What they are emphasizing here, in the words of one source, is there is more we don't know than we do know. First reports very sketchy and not at all confirmed at this point. But what our sources are telling us, at this point they do not believe any U.S. military personnel were visiting either of these hotels tonight, at the time of these attacks. They don't believe there are any so-called official Americans involved at this point.
What our sources are saying is, to the extent that it is the case that there are Americans potentially hurt, injured, captured, being held hostage -- and none of that is absolutely confirmed -- they believe those in fact would be American tourists visiting the area at this time. As all of my CNN colleagues are reporting, these are some of the hotels when we talk about official Americans, diplomats, military personnel, high-level government officials from western countries. When they travel, these are some of the hotels they stay in.
It's very similar to what we saw tragically a few months ago at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan. Another hotel known to be a place where official Americans stay. And this is very well known around the world.
So what the U.S. military is now looking at is to try to get the facts about what happened and who may have been behind this. I think everyone is commenting right now that this, by all accounts, is very well coordinated, very well planned. There was some organization behind this that they're trying to learn more about -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Well, and it seems quite clear on the face of it, Barbara, that if the goal was to focus, was to target westerners, these were the targets.
STARR: Absolutely. Again, what people are saying is, you know, we may learn much more in the coming hours that could potentially change this story significantly.
But based on what we know now, it certainly does appear Americans, possibly British citizens, other westerners, very specifically targeted because it's so well understood that these are the types of hotels that visiting American tourists and visiting official Americans stay at. One other official commenting to me that what they will be looking for is to see if the Indian government pinpoints a possible perpetrator. And nobody has seen that just yet -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Barbara Starr, obviously a chaotic situation in Mumbai. And it's going to be a little bit of time before we can sort this out and get an indication as to who the suspects might be.
But just to reiterate what's going on here, at a celebrated hotel in Mumbai, the Taj Palace, there appears to be a hostage situation ongoing there involving some number of westerners, British and U.S. nationals, we believe, in the midst of this coordinated terror attack on the financial center of the country of India. An attack that as far as we know could still be ongoing.
So we're watching it very closely. Let's bring in Zain Verjee, who has some additional information for us -- Zain.
VERJEE: Miles, this is from CNN's sister network, again, IBN. They are reporting right now fresh firing at the Oberoi Hotel. They're also reporting that three policemen have been killed in attacks and two terrorists have been shot dead.
Mumbai's one of the largest cities in the world, Miles. There's something like 16 million people who live in this commercial capital.
We're trying to figure out the situation as the scene is unfolding. Again, many in India tonight will remember a few years ago, where there was really a slew of bombings like this across the country. Some blaming Muslim militants, some are blaming and arresting Hindu extremist suspects too.
O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk a little bit about the Oberoi. As we understand it, near the Taj Palace, also frequented by westerners. Once again, do we have the sense that this was part of a commando raid in an attempt to break up this hostage attempt? And is that still an ongoing firefight there between the commandos and the terrorists?
VERJEE: It appears to be some kind of firefight between both sides. We understand that the commandos, according to IBN there in India, that they have entered the Oberoi Hotel where these tourists were taken hostage, and there seems to be some fresh firing from that hotel. It's unclear whether there is, in fact, an exchange of gunfire, but we understand that three policemen have been killed and two terrorists have been shot dead.
And we'll bring more information as we get it -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right.
And just so you know, I think in the upper right corner of that screen there, where that live bug is, I don't think that is actually live right now. This is a videotape loop that we have playing right now, just to clarify for you that we're taking in pictures as we get them from Mumbai. We'll get you the freshest pictures as soon as we get them.
Let's go now to Washington, Kelli Arena, who covers the Justice Department, the FBI for us.
Kelli, in a situation like this, obviously, fairly quick consultation with the authorities there in the way of helping out with any sort of investigation. But also, I imagine, a lot of concern about possible U.S. nationals, official U.S. representatives on the ground there in Mumbai.
Do we know anything about this?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Miles. That is the first concern. I will tell you there was no FBI presence in Mumbai. So there's no firsthand information coming in. FBI does have employees in New Delhi, but until there's a request from Indian authorities, those officials will stay put.
There's no information at this time that there were any official Americans killed at this point. I believe that Barbara Starr got similar information from her sources.
No one is claiming responsibility for this attack yet, but this is a very different terror attack than we have seen in the past. Previous attacks, they were IEDs, improvised explosive devices, that were used. The targets were softer, easier to access targets.
This time, these militants struck harder targets, and more of them, in a very coordinated fashion. You know, they didn't leave bombs to blow up. These guys knew that they could be killed or captured in this attack.
O'BRIEN: All right, Kelli. I'm sorry. I've got to interrupt you because we have some additional information coming in here.
Zain Verjee, what do you have for us?
VERJEE: Miles, more from IBN. We're learning now that Mumbai's anti- terror chief has been killed. We're learning too that these attacks were coordinated.
IBN also reporting that two terrorists are now still holed up in the Oberoi Hotel. There is a group that has claimed responsibility, apparently in an e-mail. We'll share more details when we get them, but the name of the group is Deccan Mujahedeen. We're learning, too, that there's been firing also at the Ramada hotel in Juhu, as well as at Cama (ph) Hospital, which is a hospital for women and children.
So a claim of responsibility by Deccan Mujahedeen, as well as we're learning of more terrorists being killed, and the anti-terror chief of Mumbai also killed.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's go through that.
First of all, let's underscore for our viewers the source here. IBN is our sister network in the country of India. The terror chief himself...
O'BRIEN: ... was he on the front lines of this? Do we know anything about the circumstances which led to his death?
VERJEE: It's not clear what the circumstances are right now, whether he may have been killed in the initial series of attacks, or may have been killed in the exchange of fire, or anywhere in between. It's just unclear. But we do have from IBN that he has been killed.
O'BRIEN: OK. Just a clarification. Of course, the anti-terror chief would be more correct in this case.
This group, Mujahedeen, we presume them to be an Islamic group. This is set against a backdrop of an effort by Islamic groups in India to create an Islamic society essentially. And the bombings we've seen in recent years, while a little bit different, Kelli Arena was talking about how they were improvised explosive devices. I believe they used pressure cookers on the trains to create the bombs.
This is a different kind of attack, a different feel to it than the other ones.
VERJEE: It does, absolutely. I mean, people in India watching this, experiencing it, will be thinking about a series of bombing attacks across the country. Back in -- I think it was July in 2007, something like 190 people were killed with commuter train attacks during rush hour.
Police then had arrested -- suspected Hindu extremists in the attack. There's been a wave of more bombings across India.
This group, Deccan Mujahedeen, may be one of many Islamic militant groups. That's not been confirmed, that it is in fact them. But in India, it's clearly a target for many Pakistani Muslim militants groups.
Kashmir has obviously been an issue between the two countries. Lashkar-e-Taiba operates in those areas. But we don't know if there's any Hindu extremists' role in this. We're still trying to figure out its early stages, but there is a claim of responsibility in an e-mail.
O'BRIEN: All right.
Let's move it now to Kathleen Koch at the White House.
Obviously the beginning of a holiday weekend here in the United States. Nevertheless, the White House obviously getting this information pretty much as we are, as well.
Kathleen, any comments so far?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, certainly the White House is watching these very disturbing series of attacks with great concern, unfolding as they are, in a major city in a country that is one of the United States' most important allies in Asia. And a comment came not long ago from Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto, who said, "We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life. We continue to seek more information."
And that's very much the story here at the White House, Miles, as you heard also at the Pentagon and the State Department. U.S. officials are really trying to figure out just what has happened, who might be responsible.
As Zain just reported, we have this claim of responsibility from the Deccan Mujahedeen. Who is this group? And perhaps the largest question right now, who may they be holding? Now, there are these reports, as we've heard throughout the afternoon, that Americans, that British citizens may have been targeted, and, again, that these are hotels that they certainly frequented. So a great deal of concern here at the White House about this situation, because certainly, this is a country, a very important ally for the United States, a nuclear ally of the United States. It's India's largest trading partner, and certainly the U.S. is very interested in promoting stability in India.
Back to you, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Kathleen Koch at the White House.
Thank you very much.
CNN's Jim Clancy, one of our more seasoned international correspondents, joining us now from Atlanta. Jim has traveled extensively in the region.
Jim, first of all, the group Deccan Mujahedeen, I know it's hard to keep up with all these groups, but do we know anything about it?
JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Never heard of them. It's safe to say this is an Islamic group, but, you know, you have to remember, all it takes is two guys and a telephone to claim responsibility for one of these things. In this case, a computer with access to e-mail. That's all this is right now.
We're going to have to wait and be patient here.
My thoughts turn -- it's 10 minutes to 3:00 in the morning in Mumbai. There are hostages being held there.
They face two risks, one by the people that are holding them, the second by an Indian government and military that is desperate to see this business over with by the time people wake up a few hours from now all across India. They are going to try to take the situation back at the Oberoi and at the Taj Palace hotels there in south Mumbai. These people's lives, the people that are being held, are really in more danger this hour than probably at any other time -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Yes, let's underscore that point.
We're talking about an ongoing situation here. We're talking upwards of nine sites that have been targeted, perhaps more, perhaps still undergoing.
Jim, give us a sense, given that the back-story here, and given the fact that this city, unfortunately, has been targeted by Islamic terrorists in the past, and many people have lost their lives, more than 200 people in the last significant bombing back in 2006, give us a sense of the level of security that would be present in this city on a typical day.
CLANCY: On a typical day, you're going to have police in the streets that are going to have weaponry. I wouldn't say it's an overwhelming presence, but they are out on the streets.
At these hotels, there are police. At least when I was staying at the Oberoi, visiting the Taj Palace, some of these hotels, some of these locations, it wasn't unusual at all to see police with automatic weapons that were standing outside the hotel.
At certain times, our luggage was checked even before we came in. There are scanners at the entrance to these hotels. A lot of that is really aimed in order to make the international travelers, international politicians and diplomats, as Zain was telling us, the military, as we heard there from Barbara Starr, to make them feel a little bit more secure.
But how effective could they be, you know, when you look at a situation where three or four men armed with automatic weapons suddenly present themselves at the front entrance? Tonight...
O'BRIEN: And of course, add to that mix, Jim, the possibility that they would willing to sacrifice their lives in this case, and very, very -- really impossible to defend against.
All right Jim. Please stand by. Stay close.
We're getting in additional material. As you can see, it's coming in constantly, leaning heavily on our sister network in India, IBN. And we're hearing from some survivors who are now describing what happened as the attackers unleashed their horror.
Listen to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAUTAM PATEL, WITNESS: I was in the trident hotel on the 11th floor when I heard two large sounds from -- it seemed like it was coming from within the hotel. And I -- it sounded loud enough to be -- to suspect it was a bomb or some bomb blasts.
And then I looked on the left, from the window on the left of my hotel room, and I could see one of the restaurants in the neighboring hotel called the Oberoi, the restaurant was in flames, and I knew something was wrong. So left the room, went down the fire exit to the basement of the hotel, and I was escorted by some hotel staff to a large banquet room where I think there were about 150, 200 people, and the lights were out.
And we were told to stay there until we had any further instructions. I was there for about an hour. And at that point, we also heard some -- a couple of other bomb blasts of the same magnitude and some -- I believe some machine gunfire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's now check in -- of course, any time a news story breaks these days, we get a lot of help from people on the Internet, people with cameras, picture phones right there on the scene. Abbi Tatton has been watching that for us.
Abbi, what are you seeing unfolding on the Internet?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Miles, we went to Flickr and we went to Twitter and we saw this unfolding as we were looking and seeing what was coming in.
This is from Vinukumar Ranganathan. His neighborhood is in Kalaba (ph). This is in the southern tip of Mumbai. And right now, it's absolutely strewn with debris. I just spoke to him, and he talked me through the last couple of hours, what this felt like for a resident as this was unfolding.
About 11:00 p.m. local time, he heard two loud blasts from his apartment. He says he's within sight of the Taj Hotel.
The TV at that time was reporting that something was happening at the train station, so he headed off there, thinking it was about four or five kilometers away. But this was right outside his building, a petrol station that is right outside where he lives, a gas station, which appeared to have been targeted separately.
Police at the scene said there had been a grenade attack on that gas station. He didn't see too many injuries, just a couple of minor injuries.
But as he was standing here -- and at this point, he had heard of two attacks already, one at the train station, one at the gas station -- at that point they heard gunfire nearby, as well. He said lots of people were collecting on the streets, nervous, they don't know what's happening next. Right now he's back in his apartment uploading those pictures and updating all the people around the world that are following what he's doing online -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Abbi Tatton, you continue that effort. And I'm sure we'll be getting more information as this rather ominous picture continues to take shape as we continue to receive our exclusive video from our sister network IBN in India.
Let's go back to the scene to Mumbai. Andrew Stevens of CNN was there with a crew at the time.
First of all, Andrew, I didn't ask you, where were you when this all unfolded?
STEVENS: Miles, we were coming back from an assignment, and we were just -- we were in a convoy of two cars. The first car just got to the Taj when they told us to say there is an incident at the Taj, we can't get in, we're being moved on by the police. It's a very chaotic scene for the moment. We advise to you go to the Oberoi Hotel and we'll regroup there and discuss what we're going to do.
So I went to the Oberoi Hotel, which is only about five minutes away. And just as we arrived, people came flocking out of the hotel, probably about 30 or 40 people came running out of the main entrance of the hotel, sort of cowerering behind potted plants and running up the street.
And we got out to find out what was going on. The security guard told us that there were two men fighting in the lobby, though it didn't seem that a fight in the lobby would produce that sort of reaction.
And we tried to get in a little bit further. We were pushed back by security, and basically moved on and were told to get out of the scene. And then we just kept on being moved on by police.
But it was interesting, as we were coming out, there were a lot of cars coming towards us from the area of the Taj that were driving on the wrong side of the road. There was a real sense of panic. These cars were just basically getting out of town in whatever way they could.
And I've just been watching some amateur footage on local TV here, Miles. And it shows an SUV with a red light on the top driving past a lot of camera positions, and gunmen inside apparently opening fire on these camera positions. Now, this was down near the Taj Hotel. So that was sort of sparking the panic, the chaoses in that area.
Then, as we know, gunmen went into that hotel. There are still gunmen in that hotel. There are hostages in that hotel.
In the Oberoi, gunmen have also been in there. They are still in there. There are still hostages in that hotel, as well.
Just after I spoke to you about 10 minutes ago or so, it was being reported that commandos had gone into the Oberoi Hotel, and large explosions had been heard. We haven't heard any more from that.
We know -- we're being told about three-quarters of the hotel has already been evacuated. But a huge blast at the hotel. Obviously very difficult to get information now because so much of the city in that area obviously has been cordoned off. So we're relying on police reports to glean the information through the local channels here -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right, Andrew. I think we've seen that piece of video. You were talking about that amateur video. We'll try to get that looped in and playing in just a moment.
Bu tin the meantime, I'm curious, were you -- here we go. There's a shot. It shows what almost appears to be a police van, I guess. It's got the red lights on it. And as it passes through here, you see people ducking for cover there.
STEVENS: Well, that's -- that's the speculation, Miles, that this -- this vehicle may have been -- may have been hijacked. It may have been just taken (INAUDIBLE) and used for their own purposes. That's all I can tell you about that at the moment.
But one piece of other information, I can tell you that there has been, just in the last couple of minutes, a claim of responsibility by a group called Deccan Mujahideen. Now, I have been talking to our bureau chief, our India bureau chief in Delhi, and he doesn't know them. He hasn't heard of them. Commentary here, so, they -- this is a little-known, virtually unknown group called Deccan Mujahideen. That is a claim of responsibility.
That's all we can say at the moment. Obviously, we can't pin anything on them. But there has now been one claim of responsibility. But, in answer to your question, I mean, this was a -- this was what appears to be a very coordinated attack. At least seven positions, seven targets were -- were hit pretty much simultaneously -- or certainly -- certainly within a few minutes of each other.
So, this looks like it was quite a sophisticated operation.
O'BRIEN: Andrew, we're looking at how sophisticated it -- it was right now, as we see a police van, essentially. People, of course, not having any reason to be fearful of that, and, then, all of a sudden, it opens fire on a crowd there.
Do you know where that occurred in the city? Was that very near to that -- those hotels we have been referring to?
STEVENS: That -- I understand that's actually quite close to the Taj Palace Hotel. I don't know how much of that video you have been watching, but you see quite clearly at least one person has been shot in that video holding his hand.
STEVENS: It looked like he had been shot through the hand.
STEVENS: But -- but it -- it appears to be that video was actually down just next to the Taj Palace Hotel.
O'BRIEN: All right, and, Andrew, just a quick question. You and your crew, are you in a safe place right now?
STEVENS: Yes, we are in a safe place, Miles. We are attempting to get the satellite up and going live. But we're OK at the moment.
As I say, at this part -- certainly, this part of the city has been locked down pretty much by police. We just can't get out and about at the moment.
O'BRIEN: All right, Andrew Stevens, be safe there in Mumbai, as this is situation continues.
Nine sites at least targeted, multiple deaths, word of Western hostages in at least one hotel, U.S. and British hostages, a situation that is very dynamic, indeed. And, in the course of this, we see amateur video that indicates, not only was it coordinated and sophisticated; it was potentially well-funded, using police vans, potentially, police uniforms, on the part of the terrorists, to accomplish their deed.
Let's bring in Pat D'Amuro now. He's a former FBI assistant director, helps us out on security matter.
Pat, watching that video -- I don't know if you have had a chance to see it, but what it shows is, people, unsuspecting people, obviously in a state of worry prior because of what's been going on in that city, but watching this van go by, and, all of a sudden, it just opens up on the crowd.
This should tell us something about the sophistication of this group.
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you're right, Miles.
Since 9/11, we have seen a lot of decentralized Islamic radical groups trying to form organizations and conduct these types of attacks. That's the one thing we know, that after the 15,000 to 20,000 individuals, assumed 15,000 to 20,000 individuals, going through those training camps in Afghanistan have formed these splinter groups with affiliations with radical fundamentalists.
Now, while they're decentralized, it does not mean that they're not well-trained.
O'BRIEN: Yes. So, tell us about that. Who does the training in these cases? How do they -- how do they coalesce? Is it through the Internet? Where do they meet, this kind of thing?
O'BRIEN: Because this obviously takes a lot of effort to pull something like this off.
D'AMURO: Well, there's a lot of intelligence indicating that they're trying to resurrect some of the camps in Afghanistan. There have been camps that popped up in -- in Iraq that are training radical fundamentalists, radical Sunni extremists that wish to conduct these types of attacks.
We have seen numerous groups, Ansar al-Islam, Tablighi Jamaat, you know, numerous groups coming out of those training camps in Afghanistan that have splintered since 9/11 and now are trying to conduct their own decentralized types of attacks.
O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, Pat. We have talked about this before, but we worry so much about al Qaeda. Al Qaeda doesn't even really need to be in business in order -- because these groups can become inspired by the cause on their own right.
D'AMURO: That's true.
They're inspired by groups like al Qaeda. And what bin Laden was successful in doing was creating those training camps and running those training camps for a significant amount of time, that thousands of individuals can be go through them. Now, while al Qaeda doesn't have to be centralized and control these attacks, these groups affiliate with radical fundamentalism.
O'BRIEN: Yes, and it does have the hallmarks of an al Qaeda- style attack, that -- that coordinated synchronicity that we have seen in so many of these al Qaeda attacks.
Zain Verjee, right beside me here, has some additional information for us.
Zain, what do you know?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: The State Department is saying that all American Consulate employees have now been accounted for.
Senior State Department officials are telling us that they're actually getting all their information, Miles, about this situation at the hotels and -- and what's unfolding on the ground from Indian officials, as -- as well as their own sources that they're working on the ground.
American officials there on the ground can't even get near these hotels, Miles, simply because of the hostage situation. The whole place is in lockdown. What we're hearing now is that consulate staff are -- are at the hospitals. They're combing the hospitals.
What we have seen from the statement, that -- from the State Department -- that there are no American casualties. As of now, there's been no confirmation of any Americans being taken hostage.
O'BRIEN: All right, but the wildcard is, who is inside those hotels right now...
O'BRIEN: ... and who is being held? Could they be Americans? Could they be British? Could they be others?
VERJEE: They could, absolutely. And we're going to find out as -- as the hours start to unfold.
The State Department has set up an operation center, a sort of crisis center, Miles, to handle phone calls from Americans seeking information about relatives. We will try and get you -- if you're worried, if you have relatives there, we will try and get you that information and that number.
We're expecting, too, Miles, that someone at a pretty high level, possibly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is expected to call Indian officials to offer any assistance. That's really -- right at this moment, it's about just being able to reach someone at a high level during this situation that's extremely fluid.
O'BRIEN: Well, you can imagine just trying to help in a situation as chaotic as this.
You know, it's -- it kind of reminds me what it was like in this city after 9/11 and how things broke down. Communication has got to be taxed. You can imagine that just an effort at finding out this very basic information is very difficult, indeed.
VERJEE: It is, extremely. The U.S. has said that it will -- it will try and help it at any time.
You know, they have things, Miles, like the FBI international negotiations -- hostage negotiation team, and they have special planes that they can dispatch, if asked. But that's really the key. The U.S. isn't going to get involved and they're not going to anything until they can get ahold of the Indians and the Indians ask them for help.
But, so far, it seems as though the Indians are handling this themselves. They are very competent. They have a history of be able -- of being under target, having numerous terrorist attacks like this across the country. So, they have the infrastructure to be able to handle it. But this is something that has caught everyone by surprise.
Our sister network, IBN, is saying that these have been coordinated, all these attacks -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right.
Let's bring in Pat D'Amuro, once again, our security analyst, who is familiar with these kinds of groups and their -- their techniques and their tactics.
At this point, Pat, obviously, the local authorities would lead the way on -- on trying to -- to quell this and get a -- get a handle on this. What's your sense in general about the -- the -- the sophistication and level of security among the Indian authorities there in Mumbai?
And I'm putting you a little bit on the spot. You may not know that specifically. But, generally, this is a country that has had to deal with a lot of terror in recent years.
D'AMURO: Well, that's right, Miles.
They have had numerous attacks in India, some from radical fundamentalist groups within. The Indian Mujahideen was a group that was there. The Kashmiri area, northern India, was -- was the site of many attacks that they blamed on the Pakistani government many times.
But there's recent intelligence also indicating that there could be connectivity to the tribal area in Waziristan, where bin Laden is presumed to be hiding. So, you're right about one thing. In these types of events, communications always break down.
And I can remember being in crisis situations like this, where you want to go back and say, make sure we receive the right information that's coming in, because one thing you can be assured of in a crisis situation like this, that you're going to get incorrect information at times. So, that's what they're going to be in the process of doing right now. India is used to these types of attacks. They have had them many times. They're very well-trained in these -- in this area. So, as this event continues, I'm sure we will be getting much more accurate intelligence coming out of there.
O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. And we should -- we should remind our viewers that, as we watch this, there's going to be a lot of things that, in the end, are going to be turn out to be dead ends and dark allies. But bear with us, as we try to gather information from what is admittedly a chaotic and deadly scene in Mumbai, India.
Pat, let's go back to this -- this whole -- the characteristics of this attack, nine separate locations, obviously, a lot of sophistication, well-coordinated, the use of at least one police van, potentially uniforms. This -- this feels like an al Qaeda-style attack to me.
D'AMURO: It seems very similar to radical fundamentalist attacks that we would investigate in East Africa and other places.
We have all seen the videotapes coming out of Afghanistan where they were training these types of attacks, utilizing vehicles. We know that they have safe houses where they would prepare these vehicles, prepare the bombs. So, they are very well-coordinated. And that's how they were trained.
O'BRIEN: Pat D'Amuro, our security expert, who is going to be sitting here with us as we walk our way through a very chaotic situation in Mumbai, India, nine separate locations attacked, apparently by Islamic terrorists. At least, that is the claim, upwards of 48 people dead, perhaps many more, very ominously, at least one location we know of where there are believed to be hostages, Western hostages, in a hotel.
We're tracking it very carefully. We have people on the ground there in India. And we're watching it very closely through our sister network, IBN.
We're going to take a break. We will keep you posted on that. We will bring you the latest on the situation in Mumbai when we return.
And, also, we will be a little closer to home. We will check in on Barack Obama and hear what he had to say as he held his third news conference in as many days.
THE SITUATION ROOM continues. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
O'BRIEN: We're following breaking news from India, a series of coordinated attacks on a major city, Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, the financial center of India. Here's what we know right now. Witnesses say the attackers have taken hostages at two luxury hotels frequented by Americans and other Westerners, nine locations including those hotels, a hospital, a popular restaurant, a train station, attacked with automatic weapons and grenades.
An official in India says, at least 78 have been killed so far. And we're watching that tally go up.
Witnesses interviewed by CNN's sister network in India, IBN, say the attackers were looking specifically for people with U.S. and British passports. Two suspected militants have been gunned down, nine suspects arrested, reports of a firefight in at least one hotel.
There are unconfirmed reports that a little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen now has claimed responsibility. This is set against the backdrop of Islamic terrorists in India attempting to create and forge an Islamic state, obviously, very anti-Western.
Let's get right to the Pentagon now. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is tracking things from there -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, at this point, U.S. officials are still basically struggling to confirm what details they can about this entire matter, finding it, as my colleagues have reported, very difficult to reach Indian officials at this hour, as events continue to unfold.
We're told and we're cautioned that none of this absolutely confirmed. But, at this point, the U.S. military believes there were no military personnel visiting those hotels at the time of the attacks. Not clear about the number of American tourists that might have been there or potentially could have been involved.
As we have been discussing, these are hotels well-known, well- understood to be frequented by Westerners, especially -- especially American and British citizens, so, clearly a target. And we have seen hotels be a target of terrorists around the world, just a couple of months ago, the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
A couple of years ago, we saw several hotels in Amman, Jordan, be targeted by terrorists. But let me point out a couple of things that U.S. experts are clearly going to be looking at. In these attacks in India that we're seeing, to the best of everyone's knowledge, the attackers came out of vans with small-arms, with grenades, with other handheld weapons.
That's not the type of attack strategy, well-coordinated though it was, that we have generally seen from al Qaeda. From al Qaeda, we generally see suicide attacks, truck bombs, suicide vest bombs, that type of thing, not these types of small-arms attacks.
I'm not confirming anything. I'm just observing that this is something that experts in the United States are going to be looking at to try and determine the group behind it -- the group that's claiming responsibility may or may not actually have done it -- the type of coordination, financing, money, training that would have gone into staging a multipronged, coordinated attack like this.
What military- and FBI-type forensic experts usually do is, they go back. They look at it. What would it have taken to pull all of this together, to pull this strategy together? Who had the money? Who had the financing? Who had the communications and coordination to recruit, organize this, make it happen, without, apparently, any hints that it was about to unfold?
But one clear distinction: This does not appear to be a suicide attack. This appears to be small-arms and the taking of hostages. That's not something we have seen from the so-called traditional al Qaeda attacks around the world -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon for us, thank you very much.
Zain Verjee has been watching things for us closely, as well.
And, Zain, among the reported casualties, one of the deaths is India's anti-terror chief. We don't know much about the circumstances, though, do we?
VERJEE: We're gaining a little more information.
We're hearing that the anti-terror chief as, you say, was killed. His name is Hemant Karkare. He was apparently killed by a gunshot wound. And he was actually responding after the attacks. And he was shot in the chest and died. He's -- he's also involved in investigating some critical other deadly blasts and probes in India.
So, that's likely to be affected. There are something like six or seven other police officials that have -- killed that we know of right now in this coordinated terror attack.
We're learning at this moment, Miles, from our sister network IBN in India that the terrorists have now hijacked a police jeep. Unclear on the circumstances of that or exactly where that happened. That's just coming in now. We're also getting information that there were six blasts just in the Taj Mahal Hotel and one blast at the Oberoi hotel.
Hostages have been taken at Cama Hospital, a place for women and children. Police are advising, Miles, everyone in Mumbai not to leave their house, and the situation is not over.
O'BRIEN: And I believe those pictures we were seeing there was the Taj Palace Hotel, apparently in flames after these explosions. That is also the site where we believe there's an ongoing hostage situation, so unclear how many hostages, Western, U.S., British. It's very unclear at this point whether there are commandos encircling that.
I presume they have taken positions around it, but perhaps the makings of a standoff there. But, having said that, if -- if the hotel is burning, that could change the dynamic significantly. VERJEE: And we understand from IBN, too, that there has been that exchange of gunfire by commandos, as well as by terrorists themselves.
O'BRIEN: All right.
VERJEE: Some police officers killed, and terrorists, as well.
O'BRIEN: I'm told -- I'm told by producers -- is this -- are these live pictures? These are not. These are on tape.
And I'm sorry to do this to you, as our viewers. You see that live bug in the right-hand corner of the screen. It's not live. Unfortunately, we're getting a lot of tape, and that bug is there. I don't want to confuse people with that. But this is recent video.
That is the Taj Hotel in flames there. That is the scene of one of these attacks. And it was a -- obviously, at least one explosion there, leading to the fire, and, apparently, there some sort of hostage-taking. But the details of that remain kind of sketchy.
Zain, can you fill in some blanks?
VERJEE: Well, I can fill in some blanks from the State Department.
We're learning that all American Consulate employees have been accounted for. The State Department is also saying, senior officials are getting all their information about this situation unfolding now at the hotels from the Indians themselves on the ground. American officials on the ground can't even get near these hotels because of the lockdown situation happening.
Consulate staff have gone to the hospitals. They're combing them, looking for any American casualties. The State Department has issued -- issued a comment, saying, so far, they don't know of any casualties. It's a fluid situation. There may be some, because, as you know, Miles, there are a lot of foreigners, a lot of Americans that do go visit Mumbai, do business in Mumbai.
It's -- it's a possibility. We have not been able to confirm from the State Department -- they're not saying -- whether there are any Americans being held hostages -- held hostage. The State Department has also set up an operation center, a crisis center, Miles. to handle calls from Americans looking for information on relatives that may there be.
O'BRIEN: All right, let's pick up on that point with Pat D'Amuro, our security expert, a former FBI -- high-ranking FBI official.
Pat, give us a sense. Take us inside the U.S. response to a situation like this right now. Are there go-teams that are literally moving in the direction of an event like this? How do things transpire from the perspective of U.S. investigators?
D'AMURO: Sure, Miles.
The -- the FBI does have fly teams ready to respond to situations like this, whether it be forensic experts going over. We have to understand one thing. The FBI is responsible for investigating those matters which U.S. citizens are attacked abroad. But we -- we can't respond to those situations until we're invited in by the foreign government.
The FBI has no jurisdiction internationally, other than what the countries grant us when we go in there to investigate these types of situations.
O'BRIEN: All right, well, broaden it out for us just a little bit, then, above and beyond the FBI. In a situation like this, where it's -- it's early on -- early on, it's evident that Westerners, U.S. and British, may be the targets, what does the U.S. do?
D'AMURO: Well, if -- if U.S. citizens are involved in a situation like this, and any U.S. citizens are killed or attacked, the FBI has the primary jurisdiction of going into the area and investigating those attacks on our citizens.
O'BRIEN: All right.
D'AMURO: So, once...
O'BRIEN: I'm going to interrupt you for one second. I apologize.
Our sister network, IBN, is offering up a report from the Taj Hotel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the matter of the last five hours -- in the span of the last five hours that we have seen the Taj Hotel being under siege, literally, along with several other spots in Mumbai being under siege, it just really tells us the amount of ammunition.
After every hour or 45 minutes, there would be loud explosions from the top stories, which was heard by several guests were -- who were actually safely moved to a hall in the -- in the newer Taj Hotel building, which is right close by.
The one that we are looking at, the visuals of the -- of the flames just billowing out of the top floor near the dorm, the architectural heritage dorm of the Taj Hotel, the old building, well, you can see the flames going up in smoke. This really shows a number of ammunition and arms, really, hand grenades, which are known to be low-intensity.
But if -- about 10 to 15 meters is the span that these hand grenades can target victims. So, the entire floor, the entire balcony of the dorm on the fifth -- fifth story really going up in smoke. There's just -- if I can describe to you the fire and the flames, we can clearly see them from... O'BRIEN: All right, that's from IBN, our sister network.
And we believe this is a live picture. Is that correct? Is this a live picture? Could somebody in the control room let me know, please? All right, is this a live picture, please?
OK. This is a live picture of the Taj Hotel. And we have told you about a series of explosions there, a coordinated attack, that the focus of one of nine locations in Mumbai was this hotel, frequented by Westerners. There are reports that the terrorists demanded passports -- as it goes to some sort of animation -- we apologize for that -- demanded passports, looking for Westerners, U.S. and British in particular.
And you can see the scene there, obviously, is not a good picture at all.
Let's bring in Pat D'Amuro once again.
Pat, we were talking about the nature of this attack and exactly how the U.S. would respond in a situation like this to aid and assist. Obviously, all kinds of jurisdictional issues here, but this is a country that is an ally. And there is the possibility that there may be U.S. and other Westerners who are the targets.
So -- so what does the U.S. do in this situation?
D'AMURO: Well, the State Department has teams that are ready to fly into a situation like this. The FBI has hostage negotiation teams.
We have the critical incident response group, which is a highly trained SWAT group that could be responding to a situation like this, if requested by the foreign government. Investigators would go over. Forensic scientists would go over and forensic agents would go over to help analyze the evidence left at a scene.
Obviously, they're going to want to try to find out the safe houses where these individuals were operating out of prior to conducting these attacks, because there should be a wealth of intelligence that can be obtained from those specific areas. But none of it can happen until you're invited in by the foreign government.
O'BRIEN: All right, Pat D'Amuro, who has a lot of experience with the FBI, covers security matters for us, thank you very much. Please stay close, as we continue and as this all unfolds.
Let's once again go back -- go back to our affiliate in India, IBN, and listen to what they are saying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really, because it's a big building with several exits and entrances, this makes the task of -- for the security agencies and the anti-terror squad more -- more difficult, really, and tougher for them to try and get the entire manpower focused towards getting into this building, without really costing them any human lives, any further human lives, because we have heard that several officers -- we have been reporting over the past few hours several officers of the (INAUDIBLE) have lost their lives.
Several policemen, really, have lost their lives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, right now, their priority is to try and come up with a wiser strategy, that they can be one up from -- one up on the terrorists, really, who seem to be knowing what they're doing. They seem to have had a plan in place.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. (INAUDIBLE) I'm just looking through some of the details that we know about...
O'BRIEN: All right. That was our IBN affiliate, our sister station in India, as they report on numerous fatalities involving the military, as well as police authorities there in this wild scene of carnage in Mumbai -- once again, nine -- at least nine sites attacked, obviously, an ongoing situation, very dynamic. It's really unclear the full dimensions of this attack, a death toll which stands at, at least 78, some 200 people who have been admitted to hospitals.
Sadly, one of the hospitals was targeted as well, we are told. There is a group that has claimed responsibility, a group that no one had heard of, really, before today. And it is -- it is a group that is an Islamic separatist group, and a group that would like to end Western influences in India, we believe.
And -- but that's one claim right now, and very early on. So, take that with a grain of salt as well.
Let's go back down to the scene.
Our CNN's Andrew Stevens is in Mumbai, has been there, was there as this all unfolded today, joining us now on camera. He's able -- safe enough to get the satellite up and running.
Andrew, paint the picture for me right now. This city is a scene of -- a combined scene of chaos and panic. And I suspect, also, it's a bit of a ghost town, as people have fled.
STEVENS: Absolutely, the local media calling it a city taken over by terrorists, Miles.
I am about 10 minutes away, I guess, by car from that scene you have been watching, I believe you have been watching, on our affiliate network that, that scene down on the -- on the waterfront in south Mumbai of the Taj Hotel. That is an absolute historic landmark of this city, indeed, of this country. It is going up in flames, by the looks of those.
They -- they are big, big flames coming from around the dome of this building. Now, this is a building, a hotel where there are still hostages, we understand at this stage. It's very difficult, Miles, as you can appreciate, no doubt, just to confirm exact details.
But, certainly, it appears that there are still hostages in that hotel. There are still guests in that hotel. I have spoken to people in that hotel in the last 10 to 15 minutes who are -- and who have been told to sit in their rooms, to turn the lights out, and to wait.
So, there are people in that hotel. And, as you can see from the pictures, that -- certainly, the upper part of that hotel is now on fire.
Now, about five minutes away, just up the road from that Taj Hotel, is the Oberoi Hotel, where there is also a hostage situation. We saw pictures just a few minutes ago of commandos arriving in front of that hotel.
As I was speaking to you before, Miles, there was reports of a very loud explosion as those commandos went into the Oberoi. At this stage, we don't know what's happening in there. But we are aware that there are hostages in there. We just don't know the exact status at the moment.