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Terrorists Attack in Mumbai, India, Seeking Out British and American Tourists

Aired November 27, 2008 - 05:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. I'm Joe Johns filling in for John Roberts on this Thanksgiving Day.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Carol Costello in for Kiran Chetry. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Sadly, we have news in other parts of the world, in fact, it's still a breaking situation, in Mumbai, India. We are continuing to follow that breaking news out of Mumbai.

A city in chaos for a second straight day after teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed the rich island city yesterday hunting down British and American tourists. At least 101 people were killed, more than 300 others injured, in one of the biggest cities in the world.

Right now, an unknown number of hostages are being held at the five-star Oberoi Hotel. Just hours ago, an explosion was heard there and this morning the front page of the "Times of India" reads, "It's War on Mumbai." A chilling headline as the terror continues.

People are being told to stay inside. India's stock market has been shut down and the search to root out terrorists holed up in hotels is ongoing.


COSTELLO (voice over): India's sprawling commercial capital now in a tense virtual lockdown after coordinated strikes against at least 10 sites across Mumbai. Teams of gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a guy outside my window above me, my window, who basically had smashed through the window and was hanging out of the window.

COSTELLO: This morning a chilling photo showing what appears to be one of the suspected gunmen. Authorities say an unknown number of extremists went on a rampage targeting a central train station, a cafe popular with tourists, a hospital and two five-star hotels frequented by westerners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this attack happened in New York City, it would be like going to the Ritz Carlton, the terrorist coming to the Ritz Carlton, going to the Sheraton and then going on a rampage in Times Square, and then (INAUDIBLE).

COSTELLO: Witnesses say masked gunmen looked for people with U.S. or British passports, taking hostages at several locations.


COSTELLO: And of course, some hostages are still being held this morning. A little known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen is claiming responsibility for all of this, though U.S. officials have not confirmed that claim.

JOHNS: And this morning we're tapping into the global resources of CNN to cover the breaking news. We have a team of correspondents fanned out in Mumbai, London, New York and Washington. So let's get right out to Sara Sidner. She's live outside the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.

Sarah, what's the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the latest what happened here about an hour ago, there were a couple of blasts that were heard inside the Taj Hotel. As you know, earlier in the day, there was a consideration that basically that this was over and the army had stormed the area and everyone considered it done.

In fact, it turns out it is done. 16 hours after the first attack there are still two situations definitely going on here where the terrorists, they believe, are still inside this hotel and the Oberoi Hotel. At this point they were considering about five people may still be inside who caused these attacks earlier and overnight.

We should also mention that they are now saying that six foreigners are confirmed dead. They have said that an Australian, a Japanese businessman and someone from Britain, all have been killed in the attack. They have not confirmed where the other three foreigners are from. But in total, 101 people now said to be dead due to these attacks.

The attacks started about 10:00 p.m. last night. And still the situation is not under control. You may have seen the pictures from the Taj overnight where fire erupted across one part of the dome of the Taj.

It was quite dramatic. People were being rescued. There were fire trucks bringing people down from windows. People were terrified. The pictures in the newspapers today are quite dramatic. Dead bodies laying outside of a poolside here at one of the fanciest and best known hotels in Mumbai.

The Oberoi still a very live situation going on there. A lot of concern for what is happening with those who may still be hostages at this point. There is also a couple of other places that have been said that -- that are now -- situation there cops just being held in the Jewish community, in the Jewish house.

And basically nobody knows what the condition of the hostages are at this point. Obviously, police are trying to keep and authorities trying to keep some of that quiet and trying to deal with it.

You can hear some noise going on behind me. Just a few moments ago, the police here moved everyone away. They basically evacuated most of the people, the onlookers who are standing out here.

There were hundreds of people just milling about trying to see what was going on. They said, please, move on. Mostly the people that are here are from the media. We were allowed to stay.

But there was definitely some action going on behind us. Like I said, 45 minutes ago to an hour ago there were a couple of blasts heard inside the Taj Hotel, a very historic and to most people a wonderful place to come here in Mumbai -- Joe?

JOHNS: Sara Sidner, thanks.

COSTELLO: And just (INAUDIBLE) from Sara, as we told you, explosives have been heard outside the Oberoi Hotel where it's believed the terrorists are holding an unknown number of hostages.

CNN producer Phil O'Sullivan is live outside the Oberoi Hotel.

Phil, what's the latest? I mean do authorities have any contact at all with the hostage takers?

PHIL O'SULLIVAN, CNN PRODUCER: We're being kept a long way back from the -- actually seeing the hotel entrance. I've been speaking to military commandos, asking what's going on, they say that basically all they're doing is the military are going in and we'll see an increase in the amount of military that's going in, looking very heavily armed with rifles and black jacketed soldiers are being cheered by an enormous crowd that's standing here outside the hotel without 75 meters away from the main entrance.

The soldiers are saying -- the military (INAUDIBLE) are telling me that they are going floor by floor, trying to go up this building, and try and clear out these terrorists that are inside.

We've had a dramatic lockout (INAUDIBLE) where we heard a very large explosion. First of all, there was a very large explosion earlier this afternoon and it was followed by -- after the first commandos (INAUDIBLE), we heard two other explosion. Also very loud, not as loud as the previous one, and then smoke coming from the back of the Oberoi Hotel (INAUDIBLE) smoke all day.

It seems like the military -- the military tactics that are being used at the moment is escalating and more and more soldiers are -- especially very heavily armed commandos are going into the building even at that state.

COSTELLO: We miss -- Phil, we missed the very first part of -- your live report. You say military police are going in and waves into the hotel right now and, and supposedly going floor to floor?

O'SULLIVAN: That's right. They're going, moving up through the building floor to floor, trying to clear out each floor, and (INAUDIBLE) work out where the guests are inside the hotel.

The real problem for the military is they don't know how many guests are still in the hotel. But they also don't know how many militants there in the hotel either.

So it's a very, very tricky situation as I (INAUDIBLE) hotel with one of the staff (INAUDIBLE). And actually I'm looking up at the hotel right now and one of the curtains is just actually being pulled aside. We can actually see somebody in the window waving out.

COSTELLO: You know, every...

O'SULLIVAN: We can actually see them...

COSTELLO: Phil, every so often we see that people at the window and it's a frightening sight because you don't know if it's a hostage taker or if it's a hostage.

O'SULLIVAN: That's right. There's one, there's one who's been able to watch all day. He's been standing in, looks like he's wearing a blue blazer and a white (INAUDIBLE) staring down at us all day. And that man, it would seem like here, basically a hostage.

There's another man who occasionally peers out the window on a couple of floors below him just to the left. That man (INAUDIBLE) crown here is impossible to tell, of course. The crowd here seems to think that that man is actually a gunman.

So only floors perhaps separating these two (INAUDIBLE). And this man who's staring there, it must be a terrible problem for having staying there for 16 hours now at that hotel wondering, probably, if he's ever going to get out.

COSTELLO: You know, I try to imagine myself in that situation. I'm in a hotel, I'm trapped, what do you do? You can't do anything. Do you chance running the hall and getting out?

O'SULLIVAN: That's right. Well, the situation last night at the Taj Hotel where (INAUDIBLE). Last night the people were basically -- in that hotel were told basically to turn their lights off, lock their doors and keep themselves under their bed.

And they did that for four to five hours. But then that hotel actually ended up going on fire after a grenade went off in one -- from the old wing of the hotel which is very wooden, mostly wooden construction.

Fire grabbed hold of that and we figured it was made from (INAUDIBLE), they just had to get out. It was risk (INAUDIBLE) or risking (INAUDIBLE). A lot of people got out at that moment and the fire was brought under control. And there are still people stuck in the hotel.

It's a -- terrible situation to be in it. It's unimaginable for most people.

COSTELLO: So, Phil, in talking to the authorities, have these hostage takers like -- made any demands? What do they want?

O'SULLIVAN: No, there's been no demands made as far as we know. There's been a claim by an -- Indian group called the Deccan Mujahideen which not much is known about, not necessarily even confirmed that that is actually -- the people who are actually responsible for these attacks.

They do seem very organized, talking to people who actually saw them come into the hotel. They said they were very, very well -- they seemed to be very, very well equipped, they looked very, very sharp. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing and they came out (INAUDIBLE) restaurant from the Oberoi Hotel, surprising everybody, and then they started shooting indiscriminately.

COSTELLO: Phil O'Sullivan, reporting live for us in Mumbai. We'll get back to you shortly. Thank you.

On this Thanksgiving, the outgoing and incoming presidents are closely monitoring the crisis. President Bush is at Camp David. President-elect Barack Obama is in Chicago with his family.

The State Department is also watching this unfold, of course. CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joins us now.

What's the State Department saying?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to figure out if any Americans are being held hostage in the situation unfolding right now in the Oberoi Hotel. They're trying to figure out if there are any Americans that have been killed or wounded.

Consulate staff basically spread out. They're combing hospitals to see whether any one's been injured. We're learning, too, that the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai is open today and they're saying to any Americans if you lost your passports, you don't have it, you know, in all this chaos, and you have to travel and it's an emergency, come to the consulate. They're open and they'll issue a passport.

JOHNS: There's obviously been an outpouring of international reaction. You are the State Department correspondent. Can you give us a flavor of what people are saying?

VERJEE: I mean across the board, in Asia, in Europe, you know, in this country, as well, I mean, it's just condemnation across the board and a lot of world leaders expressing solidarity with India.

President Bush issued a statement. The White House saying the following, the White House National Security Council convened officials from counterterrorism and intelligence agencies, as well as the State and Defense Departments, and the U.S. continues to monitor the situation including the safety and security of citizens, and stands ready to assist and support the Indian government.

Secretary Rice has been on the phone. She's been working and speaking to U.S. diplomats on the ground, Indian officials, Indian diplomats here in the United States, and essentially has said the U.S. stands ready to help, but they'll wait until the Indians say we need you.

JOHNS: And they've also set up a toll free number, basically, for people to call in and -- if they're concerned about...

VERJEE: Right.

JOHNS: ... any relatives, what have you...

VERJEE: Right.

JOHNS: ... up there on...

VERJEE: Exactly.


VERJEE: Exactly. And that number is 1-888-407-4747. It's a little difficult to get through, but if anyone is panicking that's really the number you need to call. You know, they're saying that any Americans need to register at the embassy whenever they can. But for now, everyone needs to just stay in.

JOHNS: All right.

COSTELLO: And you're going to stick around.

VERJEE: I will.

COSTELLO: All right. Thank you, Zain.

JOHNS: All right. Zain Verjee.

A night of violence and terror in Mumbai. Those who witnessed some of the bloody carnage are now telling their dramatic stories, what they saw and how they escaped.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They shifted us eventually 10 at a time, women and children first, outside the hotel to a back -- fire escape and out into the -- out into the street, where we thought we were OK because we're away from the hotel. And then, again, we heard gunfire and we heard grenades and there was a lot of panic. People running, people getting trampled.



COSTELLO: Just about 45 minutes after the hour. We are continuing to follow breaking news as chaos engulfs India's Mumbai, a day after terrorists armed with weapons and grenades staged a series of 10 coordinated attacks killing more than 100 people. Right now the city in lockdown. The streets are empty. Tourists are holed up in their hotel rooms and there are reports of hostages still being held at the five-star Oberoi Hotel.

Just a few blocks away, confusion reigns at the Taj Mahal Hotel, 104-year-old city landmark. Tourists there have barricaded themselves in their rooms. Police now going door to door, floor to floor, assuring people the situation is safe.

JOHNS: Let's bring in Chris Voss. He spent years as an international hostage negotiator with the FBI. He joins us this morning from Washington.

Good morning, Chris.


JOHNS: When you look at the situation and what we know now, which is not a whole lot after several hours, can you give us a sense of what you're thinking as a person who is familiar with hostage negotiations and understanding the reports that are now out there that there is some type of, apparently, a hostage situation going on.

VOSS: Well, as this thing gets started, unfortunately, it's eerily reminiscent of what happened in Munich in '72 when there was largely military dealing with the situation. Terrorists come in and take hostages. A -- I've heard there's a possibility of some unobtainable demands that they've started.

And the terrorists themselves probably have somewhat of a vague timeline in mind for how they'd like things to play out. The government is reacting -- in a reactive as opposed to a proactive mode which is very difficult in this -- it's far easier said than done in this.

And they're waiting to see what happens and what kind of demands happen. There'll be a stream -- if this lengthens out in any sort of timeline, there'll be a stream of intermediaries that are called upon to communicate with the terrorists inside to try to find out what it is that they want and try to negotiate a peaceful resolution to this. But it'll be very difficult.

JOHNS: And the -- a central problem here is one of the conditions of any negotiations you would assume would be safe passage. And that, of course, is something the authorities would not allow.

VOSS: No, they would not allow it but the point is, it would be something to discuss which would give them an opportunity to engage the hostage-takers on the inside and find out where their minds really are.

There's always the assumption that all the terrorists are -- prepared and willing to die in these cases. And what generally happens in most cases is that some of them, at the end, decided they would prefer life over death. And there may be something to talk about. JOHNS: And the negotiators then, on their side, would essentially be trying to move a conversation with them in the direction of give yourself up because there's no way out.

VOSS: Yes, exactly. And that -- if they have any sort of legitimate objective that the -- the publicity that they've already obtained would be the best they could possibly do. And if they continue, then their objectives are completely lost because the murder of innocent individuals is bad for any one's political agenda regardless of what that agenda might be.

JOHNS: And when we look at the hostages themselves, they essentially are the bargaining chips here.

VOSS: Hostages are the bargaining chips, but there are other things that are bargaining chips as well. Certain amount of media coverage, their access to the intermediaries if they wish to speak to at all. There's a lot of different things that can be used, can be brought into the conversation that can become bargaining chips.

JOHNS: How likely is it really that these individuals who have taken the hostages, presumably, actually would prefer to be martyred than to give themselves up?

VOSS: That's a difficult thing to say. There's probably some that would prefer to be martyred and there's probably others who have, have second thoughts about whether or not this is appropriate time to be martyred or whether or not they want that at all.

In sieges like this in the past, there always are a small group within the main group that would really prefer life to death.

JOHNS: Right. Now one of the things we have to say is we're still trying to confirm from authorities that contact has actually been made with these individuals and that some list of demands has actually been proffered.

That is something I don't think we have a whole lot of information right now, but moving on, you were involved, were you not, Chris, in the Jill Carroll negotiations? Give us some idea what it's like to try to negotiate with terrorists?

VOSS: Well, we have a phrase in the negotiation community that you don't negotiate with terrorists, you negotiate against them. Negotiation becomes a tactical tool, a way to obtain intelligence on that, the terrorists, the hostage-takers, and if you will, it's also a way to conduct somewhat of a sting operation if necessary.

So -- and there are a lot of different ways to approach terrorists also. There's -- back in 1974 a man named Brian Jenkins said terrorism is theater. And in all cases of terrorism, the terrorists have some sort of theater in mind.

So the authorities' reaction to it is what can change the game, if you will. If you get out of a reactive mode and move into a proactive mode, it can throw them off their timeline and off their objectives, and actually disrupt what they have in mind.

JOHNS: Chris Voss, a former hostage negotiator with the FBI, thanks for coming in this morning and let's stay in touch. Carol?

VOSS: My pleasure.

COSTELLO: We have a bit of breaking news from the Associated Press. They're reporting an Indian Navy ship is boarding a cargo vessel, somehow connected to this attack. We don't know much more than that right now, but as you know, Mumbai is on a peninsula that's just out into the sea.

Apparently the Indian Navy is boarding a cargo vessel there. When we find out more information, of course, we'll pass it along but this could be a new major development, we just don't know.

Of course, there are other new developments coming in right now. We'll go back live to Mumbai in just a few minutes. It's 51 minutes past the hour.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just like something out of a movie. I don't think you ever imagine anything like that to happen. I guess the main, the main thing is that I thought it was going to end. And it just never ended.


COSTELLO: It's never ending, seemingly, it's been going on for about 20 hours now. Just one of the many chilling eyewitness accounts we've heard describing the coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India's biggest city, home to 13 million people.

But right now the streets are virtually empty. Residents are being told to stay inside. And the crisis is far from over.

As intelligence agencies across the globe try to determine who was behind the attacks, CNN's international security correspondent Paula Newton joins us live from London now.

And Paulo, what do we know about? We know they're young men. We know some of them were fishermen. We know that some of them were unafraid to die and they were heavily armed, some with assault rifles, some with grenades.

What more do we know?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We know that they went in purposely, Carol, to take hostages. This was planned. This was something that was coordinated.

What kind of hostages do they want? Foreign ones, preferably Britons and Americans. The reason is that they wanted to really have the tipping point where extremism, Muslim extremism in India hit a different stage. They wanted to up the ante if you will, and that we know.

There is an Islamic student movement that -- Indian intelligence have said was responsible for some prior attacks. Perhaps this points to them. Right now Indian officials are scrambling to figure out who they are, not because it's so important in terms of a post-mortem on this, but, Carol, they need to go where to go to find the people who supported this.

This isn't just the militants who are loose on the streets in Mumbai right now. It is about who supported them. Perhaps we have that tie to the cargo ship right now.

People in India, and this is common citizens during this election cycle right now in India, have complained, saying that the intelligence authorities weren't doing enough for security and more than that were in denial about the Muslim extremism in their own country. They hadn't infiltrated these groups.

When you have these kinds of attacks, Carol, intelligence officials usually have a place to go. A door to knock on. A place to storm. A place to go. And as certainly places to search and find out what is behind these attacks, what are the demands, what are they likely to see next.

Right now, what we see on the streets, from what we're hearing, they really are scrambling to try and figure out a way out of this.

COSTELLO: Last night, we kept hearing that this group might have ties to al Qaeda. Is that true this morning? We don't know? What's the story on that?

NEWTON: I mean, Carol, almost universally, anyone that you talk to says this does not -- really have the hallmark of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has not had a footprint in India whatsoever.

Having said that, in a pan-Islamic way, in terms of having a very large Islamic state and being against India and India being a secular democracy that is constantly developing its economy, those kinds of ideals in terms of trying to tear all that down, they do have that in common with al Qaeda.

That does not mean that this can in any way, shape or form was directed by al Qaeda, or as coming -- as directed from bin Laden somewhere in a cave. That's not what this is about. It is about shared goals and ambitions, but necessarily being directed by al Qaeda.

COSTELLO: Paul Newton, live in London, we'll get back to you. Thanks.

JOHNS: We're just now getting reports of more gunshots at the Taj. We'll be back with that in just a moment.