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The Situation Room

New Firefight in Mumbai; Al Qaeda's Fingerprints on Terrorist Attacks?

Aired November 28, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: a new firefight in Mumbai going on right now, an apparent move by commandos to finally end this terrorist siege. We're following the unfolding events at a landmark hotel right in Mumbai. Stand by. We are going to go there live.

Plus, looking for al Qaeda's fingerprints, the global investigation into who is behind this terror assault in India. We have new information coming in.

And a New York rabbi and a Virginia teenager among the Americans targeted in Mumbai and killed in cold blood.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, it's 4:30 a.m., Saturday in Mumbai, the breaking news, new explosions coming from that huge Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. Commandos are inside. At least one gunman reportedly is holed up there after teams of terrorists had the city under siege now for two days.

At least 160 people have been confirmed dead. Five Americans reportedly are among the dead. A worldwide investigation under way right now to try to find out who's behind this brazen new act of terror. And they are looking very closely for a possible, possible al Qaeda connection.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She's working her sources.

Kelli, what are you learning?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the FBI has officially opened a case into those Mumbai attacks, which killed at least five U.S. citizens.

Officials say that a team of agents is prepared to fly to Mumbai made up of negotiators, forensic specialists and interrogation experts. American officials are working out the final details with Indian diplomats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARENA (voice-over): It is still not clear exactly who is responsible for the attacks in Mumbai. Counterterrorism officials say investigators are still looking closely at extremist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LET, made up of Pakistani militants who have fought Indian troops in Kashmir. Intelligence sources say the group's fighters have been sighted in the Pakistan border region and the U.S. believes some have attended al Qaeda training camps there.

PAT D'AMURO, FMR. FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 individuals went through those training camps. And that may be a conservative figure. They trained on these types of events. They trained on urban assaults, they trained on attacking vehicles, they trained in taking hostages.

ARENA: Far different from many of the suicide attacks and vehicle bombings we've seen recently, these terrorist terrorists came in guns blazing. Experts say the coordination of the attack, hitting at least nine sites, and the specific targeting of westerners signals a broader new radical Islamic agenda in the region and warned the U.S. could face a similar attack.

HAROLD COPUS, FMR. FBI AGENT: We've always thought that in the past, that the terrorists, when they hit the United States, would hit targets that were high profile. What that now means is they could hit any building in any city in the United States, go in that building and get as high up as they can, and then take their hostages and have a standoff.

ARENA: The FBI sent out a bulletin late Thursday night to its law enforcement partners citing the Mumbai attacks and urging them to remain vigilant ... during this period of heightened alert as the United States conducts the transition to the new administration.


ARENA: While the FBI has opened a case into the Mumbai attacks, it's not clear what they will be allowed to do on the ground if they're allowed in. The Indian government is in charge, Wolf, of granting any and all access.

BLITZER: Kelli, stand by.

Matthew Chance is on the scene for us in Mumbai. He's over at the Intercontinental, the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel.

Last time we spoke, Matthew, we clearly, very audibly heard the gunfire that is going on. What's the latest now? We haven't spoken in a few moments?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's still a good many operations under way, it seems, at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. Security forces from India are still very much engaged it seems with those inside. We believe there's at least one militant holed up inside this landmark hotel.

The fighting has kind of spilled out over the past few minutes on to the ground floor of the hotel. We have been hearing multiple shots being fired. We have been hearing very loud explosions as well. But there's still no clear indication that this siege, which has now been under way for two-and-a-half days, is -- is coming to an end, although I think there's increasing pressure on the Indian authorities to bring the siege to an end.

Certainly, there's a great deal of anger, a great deal of sadness as well, amongst many people in Mumbai, India's financial hub, that they have been attacked in this way and that these attacks are still ongoing.

BLITZER: And, right now, as we speak, Matthew, are we hearing more gunfire? What did you say?


As I speak, there's a lull in the fighting, but I can see members of the Indian security forces standing outside of the hotel now, hiding behind trees, taking cover behind trees, occasionally firing machine gun rounds into the hotel, what must be the hotel lobby, I expect. We're about 100 meters or so back from the building itself.

But there's a good deal of activity by Indian special forces, by Indian security forces, army personnel as well. Of course, the Indian authorities are trying exceptionally hard now to try and bring this siege situation to an early close.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best, although this is not looking good right now.

Stand by, Matthew. You're over at the hotel, the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. We are going to get back to you as this siege continues.

And we're learning more right now about the Americans killed in these terror attacks in India. According to some reports, five Americans were among the dead. Several of them had duel U.S. and Israeli citizenship.

We want to bring in our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's looking at this story.

Zain, as we have heard, Americans were among those specifically targeted in these attacks, weren't they?


And it's really going to take to sort out the toll of the terror attacks, but Americans are among the dead and injured.


VERJEE (voice-over): The State Department says there are still Americans at risk on the ground in Mumbai. According to witnesses, some of the terrorists singled out and targeted U.S. citizens. JONATHAN EHRLICH, TAJ HOTEL ATTACK SURVIVOR: It does not matter whether you're on the left, on the right, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you were there and you looked American. And that means you were dead.

VERJEE: Jonathan Ehrlich raced down 18 flights at his hotel, dodged gunmen, and escaped -- 58-year-old Alan Scherr and his 13-year- old daughter, Naomi, from Virginia were killed in the terrorist attacks. Fellow members of their meditation group in Virginia remembered them.

BOBBIE GARVEY, SYNCHRONICITY SPOKESWOMAN: The three people that were injured and went to the hospital told us that they saw Alan take a bullet to the head and go down.

VERJEE: Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg held both U.S. and Israeli citizenship. He and his wife were killed in the Chabad House.

Rudrani Devi of Nashville suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Her husband, Santos Lopez, is flying to India to be by her side.

SANTOS LOPEZ, HUSBAND OF INJURED WOMAN: I always told her, I will die for you, I will take a bullet for you, and I just wasn't there to do it. You tend to believe that things that happen in the world happen to other people, until they happen to you.

VERJEE: The State Department is bringing in its officials from elsewhere in India to help search hospitals and check the hotels for Americans.

A hot line has been set up to provided information. It's received more than 1,500 calls.


VERJEE: Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is telephoning Indian and Pakistani leaders, staying in touch with them, as well as keeping President Bush informed and president-elect Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.S., Zain, as you know, is very worried about India-Pakistan relations. This is a real serious issue, especially when you recognize the history of warfare between the two countries and they're both nuclear powers right now.

VERJEE: Yes. And there is a very danger that this could become a full-fledged crisis and the situation could escalate.

The U.S. priority here is to fight the war on terror. And the fear is, is that if there's a crisis between India and Pakistan, the whole region gets destabilized, and the U.S. won't be able to get Pakistan to focus on cracking down on those militants and those extremists in Pakistan, because the army will turn its attention back toward India, which is what it has traditionally has gone in to fight.

The U.S. is just trying to turn that around and have it really drill down and focus on cracking down on the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other militants.

BLITZER: Zain, I want you to stand by as well. This story isn't going away.

So, what happened at that Jewish center in Mumbai? We have new information. We're learning now of what's being described as cold- blooded murder inside. Americans were killed there. There is one miraculous story of survival involving a toddler. We're going to tell you what happened. Stand by.

And one man says he's alive because of two decisions he made. You're not going to believe just how close he came to possibly being killed. He's standing by live with his amazing story.

And India says Pakistani elements, outside elements, were involved. Pakistan strongly denies that it was involved and it had anything to do with these terror attacks. But how might this affect the very tense relationship, at least historically tense relationship, between these two countries? And, remember, both have nuclear weapons.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Some striking images from Mumbai, an Indian commando coming down a rope outside the Chabad House, a Jewish center in Mumbai where militants were holed up -- that picture coming in from the AP.

Five bodies were found inside that Jewish center, including a New York rabbi and his wife. Officials with the Chabad organization here in the United States say the couple's toddler son escaped with a nanny.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has more on this part of the story, the siege. It's a harrowing situation.

Nic, explain exactly what happened earlier today.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it had a very dramatic beginning as you saw with that picture of Indian commandos coming down ropes from a helicopter, landing on the top of that five-story Chabad House in a very densely populated part of Mumbai.

The standoff began at that point. The siege within the building really didn't begin to get confrontational until much later in the day. It seemed that the Indian commandos wanted to doing something before it got dark.

About an hour before dark, there was a huge blast. There had been exchanges of gunfire and explosions during the day. This was a big blast. It blew open part of the building. The commandos on the roof went down by rope outside the building, went into the building through that hole. And that's where the final firefight began at that point. Crowds, when they sense that the commandos were winning the situation, began cheering. The police told the crowds to get back off the roads and the crowds became much more subdued when the information came out that the rabbi and that five other people in the house were found dead.

The commandos, when they finally left the building, did get a cheer from the crowds, many people in those crowds were very proud of what they have seen the Indian security forces doing, many residents in that area telling us of their concerns for the rabbi and his family, very concerned and upset at the end to see what had happened to him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad, very tragic, indeed.

Nic, do we know for sure that these people were killed during the course of this commando raid? Or were they killed earlier?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, it isn't clear. Perhaps the best information came from the house maid when she left the house yesterday.

These details were -- have only sort of been firmed up in the last few hours. But when she left, she said that she could see the rabbi and other people unconscious on a floor of the kitchen in the building. And it's not clear if when those commandos stormed in through that hole that they blasted in the building wall, if they then got into a shoot-out with the attacker, with the terrorists inside the building, if the rabbi, his wife and friends were caught up in that gunfight, or if they had been killed by these terrorists earlier in the process of them storming that particular building -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic is there for us. He's not going away.

Nic, stand by.

Want to go to Brooklyn right now. That's where Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife are being remembered for their goodness and their kindness, cut short by brutality and hatred.

CNN's Mary Snow is in Brooklyn, the Crown Heights section, where this Chabad organization is headquartered.

Mary, set the scene for us. There must be a lot of sad people there.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of pain, Wolf. And the Jewish Sabbath is now under way. The community is offering its prayers. Rabbi Holtzberg grew up here. He had duel citizenship. He was an American citizen, but also an Israeli citizen. And his wife was an Israeli citizen. But they were very well known in this community.

And the leaders here are expressing both outrage and shock at what they call the brutal murder of two of their finest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, seen here two years in Mumbai, saying anyone who comes here is welcome. Before they lived in India, the Holtzbergs lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which is home to the headquarters of the ultra- Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch Jewish sect which they belong to. Today some in the community struggled for words to express their pain.

MOSHE KOTLARSKY, CHABAD LUBAVITCH MOVEMENT: We're going to miss him very dearly. He was a very, very special person, him and his wife. Very, very special people. SNOW: The Lubavitch movement calls for its members to act as emissaries around the world. And friends say Rabbi Holtzberg, just 29, and his wife, Rivka, 28, were known for acting as hosts to travelers in India.

DOVID ZAKLIKOWSKI, FRIEND OF RABBI HOLTZBERG: Whether it was an Israeli backpacker or an American businessman, or the local Indian Jew from the Jewish community, everyone felt as their home was open that, that it was a beacon of light, of friendship inside Mumbai.

SNOW: On Wednesday, after news that the Holtzbergs' Chabad House had been attacked by terrorists, members of the community formed a crisis center trying to get whatever information possible and decipher fact from rumor. Community leaders say Rabbi Holtzberg was last heard from Wednesday night when he called the Israeli Consulate. Leaders here say a nanny was able to be escape with the Holtzbergs' toddler, who is safe with other family members now.

Friends coming to grips with the tragedy say they look to their friend, Rabbi Holtzberg, now.

RABBI YITZCHOK ITKIN, FRIEND OF RABBI HOLTZBERG: He had a zest for life, a positive energy about him, always a twinkle in his eye. And I think he would want to us do the same, not just to mourn his life, but to celebrate, and do as he did. He lived his life for others. And I think we should do the same.


SNOW: And, Wolf, leaders here in this community say the couple's son, Moshe, who will turn 2 tomorrow, is now with members of the community, now an orphan and being taken in.

And I spoke with a friend of the Holtzbergs earlier today who said he had a brief conversation with the nanny. He had to use a translator, but she told him, from the conversation, that she had to run down several flights of stairs with the little boy. And his pants were described as blood-soaked when he got out of the building.

The couple does have another child, a special-needs child, who is in Israel. He is -- he has medical attention and has been there for a while -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary.

Mary is in Crown Heights, where this Chabad organization is headquartered in Brooklyn. It's now the Jewish Sabbath. She will continue watch this story for us and get more information.

Mary, thank you.

Two last-minute decisions may be the reason he's alive right now. A survivor of these attacks says a terrorist came knocking at his door. He will tell you how he handled that and another potentially life-saving incident. Stand by.

Also, three of the best minds in national security with lots of experience, they're standing by to join us as well. Sandy Berger, William Cohen, James Woolsey, they're here to talk about what happened and whether the response by Indian officials was enough.

And, moments ago, moments ago, Barack Obama issued a statement telling us how he feels about what's happening in India right now.

This situation is still unfolding -- at least one gunman, maybe more, still inside the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel.

Keep it right here. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More pictures coming in from the Associated Press on the scene in Mumbai.

A guest at the Oberoi Hotel wipes away tears after being rescued.

Fifty-hours-plus of chaos and terror, and the danger is by no means over yet.

Here's a sense of what people caught in the middle of this deadly assault on Mumbai have been going through, including CNN correspondent Sara Sidner.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cleverly executed is probably the best way to put it. And, also, they obviously planned this out. They obviously thought this through all the way down to the food they might need to keep themselves able to sustain long hours, and dealing with...


SIDNER: OK. All right. We're -- another loud bang you heard there. Now, if you listen, probably in the next few minutes, there will be a succession of -- of gunshots.

All right. The journalists are now moving back. This is getting really serious, and it's getting too close for comfort.

Let me just mention this to you, Carol and Joe. We have been allowed to get so incredibly close to this building, something that you would never see in the United States or the U.K., for example, or anywhere in Europe. You would never see people this close. In fact, in most instances, authorities would pull you back so far, that you wouldn't even be able to see the hotel itself. But, for some reason, authorities have let us creep up closer.

And now we have to do what is right and what makes sense to keep everybody safe. But it is an odd situation, because, for a while there, I even last night walked almost into the front lobby of the hotel, with no one stopping me. They obviously saw I was a journalist. They obviously saw I had been standing here for -- for 24 hours.






BLITZER: And Sara Sidner is joining us on the phone right now, Sara one courageous journalist.

So, what are you seeing, what are you hearing right now?

SIDNER: Wolf, we are standing, again, outside of the Taj. The scene is still active. We have just noticed a commando has gotten out of a car and has run towards the hotel lobby, armed, fully clothed in combat gear.

And he's just run behind a fire truck that tends to be sitting right outside of the front hotel lobby doors. There are about 100 journalists who are still here, some sitting, some lying, all crouched down and waiting to see what is going to happen in this situation. This is a (INAUDIBLE) situation that's gone on for more than two days. We're going into the third day. It's about to be -- get a little lighter here. It's morning time here in Mumbai, but still an active scene.

Wolf, it's incredibly long hostage standoff. We still have not heard, though -- I have been here for about 20 minutes -- we still have not heard any gunshots or any blasts, like we were hearing over the past 48 hours. However, there tends to be these lulls, where it's so eerily quiet around here. And, then, suddenly blast after blast tends to go off, followed by gunfire, followed by silence yet again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Sara, are they still lotting you and the other journalists stay in the vicinity of this Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel? It's sort of -- as you pointed out in your report, it's sort of extraordinary.

SIDNER: It is extraordinary. It's certainly extraordinary to Western journalists, who are used to being sort of cordoned off so far away from scenes, where we can't even see the building. We're in the same place -- in fact, Wolf, we're a bit closer than we were yesterday. It is incredible. There's no police sort of keeping journalists further and further away. What they're doing is standing behind. There's four or five of them behind us with their arms folded, just watching us.

But, basically, we are the ones deciding how close we want to get and how close we should get and looking out for our own safety. All of the journalists have sort of gotten into a line and are not crossing this imaginary line.

OK. We have just had some shots. OK. We have got another shot going off right now, so, obviously, a very active scene. And this is what I'm talking about. It's quiet for a while. And then the hair on your arm raises as you can hear the shots. There's another one. I don't know if you can hear that.

I am going to try to put the phone, so that you can hear some of this when we get some more of these. But this is sort of typical of what's been happening throughout the day. It just won't end. We still are not getting good information from inside of the Taj as to what is happening. Is there any hostages -- are there any hostages inside still? Are there hotel guests that are locked in their rooms with all the lights turned out, hunkering down, waiting for authorities to come rescue them?

We just don't have those numbers. And it's literally a breaking situation here.

BLITZER: And, as we wait to hear more of these shots, Sara -- and I want you to be really careful, you and your colleagues outside the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel -- there have been reports, we have been suggesting, at least one gunman is still believed to be inside, but there presumably could be more.

Is there any new information you're getting on that front?

SIDNER: It's still the same, just like you said, Wolf. That's exactly correct. That's the information that we have been given.

But that information was given to us about five or six hours ago -- actually, more like 10 hours ago now -- that there is still a lone gunman left in that hotel.

Earlier in -- over this 48-hour period, we were told there were five terrorists inside that commandos were trying to deal with. That dwindled down to one. We have not been told what has happened to those other four suspected terrorists inside, but, basically, authorities saying there's one, at least one terrorist inside, who had AK-47s, who was heavily armed with grenades and handguns as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner is going to be standing by with us.

Sara, as I said, be careful over there and watch yourself. Sara is outside the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Happening now, the breaking news -- and you have been seeing it live unfolding here -- the Mumbai terror attacks are heating up tensions between nuclear rivals, as Indian officials hint, some of the killers may have had ties to Pakistan -- this strained relationship now taking on new global implications. Stand by. We have new information.

And the United States pledging to help with the investigation. We also have a new statement that's just come in, a little while ago, from the White House, also from the president-elect, Barack Obama.

And Obama is also saying, as he watches this crisis unfold, it could very well raise serious problems, not only for the current president, but down the road, when he becomes the president of the United States.

We're watching all of these developments. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Indian officials are hinting at Pakistan's involvement in the attacks, heating up some long simmering tensions between these two nuclear rivals. And with Americans and other international visitors among the victims, the global implications of strained relations half a world away, very, very clear right now. CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us now live. He has more on this part of the story. It's a nightmare, potentially, Reza, as you well know.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. Pakistan and India have a very fragile, rocky relationship and that relationship is going to be tested with the Mumbai attacks. We can tell you for the past 48 hours, Pakistani leaders have made all sorts of calls for the speculation and the accusations to stop. Despite those efforts, those accusations are still flying.


SAYAH (voice-over): Even before the blasts and bloodshed in Mumbai had stopped, fingers in India pointed towards Pakistan. A blame game that unfolded in the Pakistani media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At these times in India, and anything we have said clear cut that Pakistan is involved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Indian television channels do tend to jump to conclusions.

SAYAH: No accusation more serious than the one made by India's premier Manmohan Singh. In a phone call with Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Singh says early evidence shows some gunmen in the attacks have links to Pakistan.

Saying some in Pakistan's intelligence chief to India to help with the investigation. Initially Pakistan's leader agreed, but hours later, a sudden change of heart. The prime minister's office saying a representative would go instead.


SAYAH: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Prime Minister Gilan9 clearly bothered by allegations that Pakistan was involved.

GILANI: Actually, it's everybody's right to say whatever they want to say. But as far as my country is concerned, we are already hit by this terrorism. And only the (inaudible).

SAYAH: Many Pakistanis express sorrow for the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel very bad, actually, from my heart.

SAYAH: But condemn the finger-pointing that followed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it is fair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually there is no, any involvement from Pakistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is simply an effort to destroy whatever the peace process was going on.

SAYAH: That peace process had reached unprecedented levels this week. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari offering India a no- strike first agreement with nuclear weapons. No Pakistani leader has ever gone that far.


SAYAH: In 2001, after militants attacked the Indian parliament, Pakistan and India were on the verge of war. This time, leaders in the U.S. and U.K. are urging more restraint and cooperation. Anything less, say analysts, could trigger another face-off between these nuclear neighbors. Wolf?

BLITZER: And that would be a real nuclear nightmare. No doubt about that, potentially, at least. Reza is joining us live from Islamabad.

Let's get some more right now on the Mumbai attacks and for that, we're joined by three special guests with enormous experience in national security matters. The former U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. He worked for President Clinton. The former CIA director James Woolsey. And the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Gentlemen, thanks for coming in.

Secretary Cohen, I know you've been to these hotels in Mumbai and relatively recently. First of all, gives your assessment on how this crisis has been handled by the Indian government.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: well, Wolf, I was in Mumbai last week and staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel and having an event at the Oberoi, so, this comes very close to me in terms of understanding how serious this is.

First, let me say a word of condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones. This is a great tragedy and I'm delighted to see the U.S. government move as quickly as we can to indicate that we're going to lend whatever support we can to help the Indian government.

The Indian government is doing the right thing now. I think a great deal of caution has to be urged here, not revenge, but restraint. Wait until we get the facts before we start the finger pointing, because this is too serious a matter to allow the charges and counter charges to take place. I would hope that both the Indian government and Pakistani government would send their highest officials to sit down and see if they can cooperate and find out who is responsible.

BLITZER: When you were there in recent days, Secretary Cohen, was there any security at these two hotels? Did you notice anything unusual there?

COHEN: Ironically, I was in New Delhi initially to talk about anti-terrorism and I gave a speech on anti-terrorism in New Delhi to a security group, to talk about the need to break down silos and those barricades that prevent the sharing of intelligence so we can have a better handle on terrorist threats to India and the global threat of terrorism.

When I was in Mumbai, I saw very little in the way of security at the hotels. Frankly, it's going to be very difficult for any country, including India, to provide maximum protection or even minimum protection for all of the hotels and soft targets. So this is going to be a challenge that all of us are facing.

We have a great many people coming to Washington very soon. Security will be very high and, also, very difficult to provide absolute protections.

So I think that we all need to cooperate here. We need to understand, this is a global threat. This is not just India or Pakistan. This is a global threat. I think there are al Qaeda elements involved here by virtue of the fact that they were targeting Americans, British and Israeli or Jewish people. That seems to me, to indicate that we're the ones carrying the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly, into elements of Pakistan. So I would say the hands of al Qaeda somewhere in this mix.

BLITZER: Sandy Berger, do you agree with that assessment? That al Qaeda may at least have been an inspiration, if not a direct partner in these attacks?

SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well first of all, let me repeat what Secretary Cohen has said. This is a tragic and horrifying set of events that's been unfolding over the last 48 hours. It is our condolences go out to those who have been brutally murdered and caught in the crossfire. Clearly, this is the act of groups that seek to frighten the West and undermine India's success. There are groups like that that are based in India. There are groups like that who get support from outside of India. It is not illogical that there is some al Qaeda hand here. Although, again, let me emphasize, that the first facts are always suspect.

We cannot jump to conclusions here. We need to let the investigations proceed. But, certainly, whether or not whoever is involved here has links to outside groups is at the heart of that investigation

BLITZER: Is it possible, Director Woolsey, and you studied this issue for so many years, that there could potentially be rogue elements in the Pakistani intelligence service or the military who may have a hand in this as some Indians clearly suspect?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think it was possible at one time. There were elements in the ISI, Pakistani intelligence that worked very closely with Ekmashir (ph) some of the real Islamists, the very strong anti-western hostile folks in Afghanistan and among the Taliban back there in the '80s and into the '90s.

I don't know whether it's still the case or not. Both the Indians and the Pakistanis are kind of dancing around this not wanting to talk about that specific issue. Whereas saying that someone in Pakistan may have been involved could be as simple as saying some of the al Qaeda and Taliban folks on the northwest frontier of Pakistan could have been involved.

And that's, for the reasons Bill Cohen stated, seems to me to be plausible. Indeed, I think it's really very important that one strategic affect of this may well be to pull the Pakistani army to focus more on India, more their traditional role, more facing Kashmir on the east and to neglect what we really need them for, which is to work with us an the Afghans, the way the Sunnis did in Anbar Province, for example, when we did so well against al Qaeda in Iraq.

We need to do that well against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, too. But it is going to be harmed. That process will be harmed substantially if the Pakistani army and Indian army have a standoff facing over Kashmir.

BLITZER: Is there anything, Sandy Berger, the U.S. should be doing right now to cool it between India and Pakistan?

BERGER: We have good relations with both India and with Pakistan. In the past when there have been confrontations between India and Pakistan as there were, for example, in the Clinton administration in 1999, over the incident cargo which almost led to war again in 2001, when the Indian parliament was attacked by terrorists.

The United States played a very valuable role. We can talk to both of these parties in a way, of course, that they can't talk to themselves. And I think that's a very important role that we have to play.

Let's also acknowledge here that Americans have been killed here. We have a direct interest in finding out who perpetrated these crimes and assuring that they're held responsible.

I would say one other thing and that is that I think when we look here at motivations, there has been, as your folks in India suggested earlier, a very encouraging and nation peace process that has emerged between Pakistan and India in recent times. There's now trade across the line of control in Kashmir for the first time in 60 years. There's been an offer by the Pakistani government not to use nuclear weapons on a first-use basis.

And I suspect, whether this is -- regardless of who is ultimately found to be responsible here, that one of the motivations is to sabotage the nation reproshma (ph) between India and Pakistan.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. But thanks to all three of you for joining us, James Woolsey, Sandy Berger, William Cohen.

His own running mate warned that Barack Obama would be tested, would be tested by an international crisis. Now, less than two months before Inauguration Day, the president-elect of the United States gets a sample of potentially what could lie ahead. We're looking at this part of the story.

And the attacker's landed in Mumbai in a small boat. We're going to show you why it may be much harder for terrorists to slip through a U.S. port. But there's one thing the Coast Guard is still very, very worried about. We'll tell you what that is right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're following the developing story. It's still happening over at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel. We had been reporting more than -- at least one terrorist was still believed to be inside. Now we're being told by our sister network CNN IBN, that more than one, maybe three, maybe more terrorists are still inside the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel.

Sara Sidner, our correspondent, is standing by. We're going to go back there shortly and get the latest on what's going on. Because we've been hearing lots of gunfire over at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel, that's one of the site that was attacked on Wednesday.

The terror at these luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal Intercontinental, the Oberoi, it's still continuing. Pay close attention to what you're about to hear. A survivor recalls narrowly escaping a blood thirsty terrorist. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gunman was on the stairwell below me and, and I had been looking out to see if, if I could see him and I couldn't. So I thought alright, this is the time to go, and we pushed the door open and hid behind a table which was behind the door and just thought if he'd seen us, he would have you know, pushed the door open and shot us both.


BLITZER: All right, the person you just heard is a friend of my next guest. Jonathan Ehrlich, himself, also escaped being killed. He was there in Mumbai. He's now joining us from Vancouver. Jonathan, your friend told that chilling statement. Give us the background. What happened? How you managed to escape and how you're friend managed to escape as well?

JONATHAN EHRLICH, OBEROI HOTEL SURVIVOR: Well, I had had dinner in the lobby of the Oberoi Hotel about an hour before Alex, the gentleman you were just speaking to texted me in my room inviting me to join him for a drink with him and his friend in the lobby bar. I chose not to do that and I instead went to bed.

And about an hour later, there was a knock at my door and then the door bell rang and I couldn't quite figure out who was knocking on my door so late in the evening. There was no chance that it was the hotel service this late and so, I just laid there and about five minutes later, the first bomb went off and I went to my window and looked down and saw a lot of gray smoke coming up towards me.

And I moved to go into the hallway when the second bomb went off and the whole hotel shook and I knew something bad was about to happen. So I ran back out to the hall and I turned and I heard the word "bomb" and then something basically switched in my head and the adrenaline basically exploded in my chest.

I ran back into the room, packed my bags. I was actually leaving for a flight very early this next morning which was the main reason I didn't actually join Alex and his friend in the bar. I ran down the stairs and I was on the 18th floor. I probably covered that distance in about a minute and a half. Went into an area just outside of the lobby and there were several other guests who were standing around and I couldn't quite figure out what they were doing. I totally felt like a sitting duck. I didn't see any hotel security. I didn't see any hotel staff or any police.

And I just know I wanted to get out so I went from there into the hotel lobby. And it was empty. There was glass everywhere and blood on the floor and dead silence. So I knew that was not a good place to be. So I turned around and went back into that area where I had just come from and there were more people sort of standing around and I just knew, I said guys, we just have to get out of here. I felt totally like a sitting duck, as I said.

And so I just looked for the nearest exit, ran to it, ran down the stairs. Ran out through the bowels of the hotel into the back of the hotel. And I looked around and there was no one around there either. But in the distance, I saw some security guards who when they saw me started waving run, run, and I ran to them and I started screaming airport, airport and a gentleman from the hotel just basically grabbed me, threw me and my bag into a cab and we took off and I subsequently learned that Alex's story that you just heard was started when he was in the bar with his friend and those terrorists came in and started shooting everybody and he was grabbed and was told to march up to the roof.

And as you know, he was incredibly brave, so brave and escaped and unfortunately, his friend did not. And the last I heard he was still in the hotel. Now I've heard they cleared it and I don't have anymore information there.

BLITZER: At the Oberoi Hotel. I want to go back to when you were lying in your room by yourself and you heard a knocking on the door, a pounding on the door and the natural instinct is to say something, who is there? What's going on? But you remained totally silent. What made you do that since you didn't know the hotel was under attack or anything?

EHRLICH: I wish I had the answer for that. I honestly don't know. I guess I was tired, and I guess I just couldn't figure out what anyone would have wanted.

BLITZER: We've just lost our connection with Vancouver, with Jonathan Ehrlich. We're going to fix that and go back, because his story is a powerful story, and it's only just beginning. We're going to go back and speak to Jonathan. He's going to tell us what it was like inside, and what's going through his mind right now. He got on that flight, out of Mumbai, he got to Europe, and eventually made his way to Toronto, and now in Vancouver, where he lives.

This is one courageous Canadian who was there at the Oberoi Hotel. We'll re-establish our connection with Jonathan Ehrlich, and we'll continue this conversation as our special news from Mumbai continues.

Also, gunmen in a small boat, on a mission, on a dangerous mission to terrorize a major city. Why did they do it? How did they get through? We're going to ask the U.S. Coast Guard, could it happen here? Stay with us. Lots more coming up, the breaking news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Army personnel carry a grenade launcher after using it on the face of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel today. And only in the past few moments, we've heard more gun fire going on right now. Our sister network, CNN IBN reporting at least three terrorists still believed to be holed up inside that hotel.

Surveillance video of the gunmen who killed at least 160 people in Mumbai and wounded hundreds more show they reportedly had planned this attack for months and months. They came in from the sea. Police say they landed in India's largest city in a small boat carrying duffel bags to launch a killing spree that's claimed the lives of, as I say, at least 160 people. At least four, five, maybe more of them, Americans. The United States has a wide net of protection to secure its waterways from this kind of attack. CNN's Sean Callebs has been looking into this. Sean, what are you learning? Because the lessons learned from this could be really important for the U.S. and other countries around the world.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, exactly right, Wolf. We can tell you that all internationally flagged ships, when they come into the U.S., the port area, they must notify the U.S. four days, 96 hours ahead of time. If they don't, they are not allowed in. They're kept out at sea. Those are the big ships, the tankers, cargo ships, something like that.

But what about a zodiac or small speedboat? They certainly present a wealth of problems.


CALLEBS (voice-over): This is what happens if the Coast Guard suspects the worst. Guard members armed to the teeth board the vessel. They search through everything, from the crew list to the cargo. From its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, the Mississippi River twists and turns 100 miles, and the guard is responsible for making sure every nook and cranny is as safe as possible.

On many large vessels, the captain has access to a panic button. Similar to what a bank teller can trigger in the event of a holdup.

CMDR. KEVIN LOPEZ, U.S. COAST GUARD: They can hit this button and let people know something's wrong on board their vessel and we can go to the rescue. And we have 100 miles to do this before we reach the heavily populated area of New Orleans.

CALLEBS: And just how busy is this bend in the mighty Mississippi? Virtually every day, the Coast Guard stops and checks ships somewhere between here and the coast. The guard says last year, more than 5,000 internationally flagged ships passed through New Orleans, making it one of the busiest ports in the nation.

LOPES: St. Bernard, New Orleans, south Louisiana and Baton Rouge. These are all huge ports in their own right. When you line them all up in a linear fashion, it creates one of the world's biggest port complexes.

CALLEBS: But it is easy to spot a tanker or cargo ship. What about a zodiac or small speedboat? There's no way for the Coast Guard to be everywhere. So, the guard looks at other government entities as well as the average citizen.

LOPES: Everyone that is working and living in the maritime environment knows their little piece of the world very, very well, and they know when things are out of place.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CALLEBS: And that's whey they depend on those people, the locals, so much, Wolf. I'd like to tell that you the U.S. is always going to be 100 percent secure, but we know that is not the case.

Now there is just one entity, America's waterway watch program, and federal authorities say check into that,, and you can find out information if you suspect something suspicious, how the average person can help the Coast Guard and other federal went tips.

BLITZER: Sean Callebs, watching this story in New Orleans. Thank you. To our viewers, stand by. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. But I'm not going away. Our coverage on CNN and CNN International continues right at the top of the hour. The terror in India, stay with us.