India Faces Reckoning as Terror Toll Eclipses 170


MUMBAI, India — Death still hung over Mumbai on Sunday, as the Indian government reckoned with troubling questions about its ability to respond to escalating terror attacks.

The morning after the standoff ended at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, the official death toll remained 172. But the police said they were still waiting for the final figures of dead bodies pulled from the wreckage from the hotel, a 105-year-old landmark. Funerals were scheduled to continue throughout Sunday, for the second day in a row.

As an investigation moved forward, there were questions about whether Indian authorities could have anticipated the attack and had better security in place, especially after a 2007 report to Parliament that the country’s shores were inadequately protected from infiltration by sea — which is how the attackers sneaked into Mumbai.

All the while, tensions swelled with Pakistan, where officials promised that they would act swiftly if any connection to Pakistani-based militants were found, but also warned that troops could be moved to the border quickly if relations with India worsened.

It was still unclear whether the attackers had collaborators already in the city, or whether others in their group had escaped. And perhaps the most troubling question to emerge for the Indian authorities was how, if official estimates are accurate, just 10 gunmen could have caused so much carnage and repelled Indian security forces for more than three days in three different buildings.

Part of the answer may lie in continuing signs that despite the country’s long vulnerability to terrorist attacks, Indian law enforcement remains ill-prepared. The siege exposed problems caused by inexperienced security forces and inadequate equipment, including a lack of high-power rifle scopes and other optics to help discriminate between the attackers and civilians.

Amid the cleanup effort on Saturday, the brutality of the gunmen became plain, as accounts from investigators and survivors portrayed a wide trail of destruction and indiscriminate killing.

On Wednesday night, when a married couple in their 70s went to their third-floor window to see what was happening after hearing gunfire, the attackers blazed away with assault rifles, killing them both. Shards of glass still hung in the panes on Saturday.

When several attackers seized a Jewish outreach center, Nariman House, on Wednesday, neighbors mistook the initial shots for firecrackers in celebration of India’s imminent cricket victory over England. But then two attackers stepped out on a balcony of Nariman House and opened fire on passers-by in an alley nearby. They killed a 22-year-old call center worker who was the sole financial supporter of his widowed mother.

When a tailor locked up his store for the night, half a block from the Taj Hotel, a gunman spotted him and killed him instantly, said Rony Dass, a cable television installer. “We still don’t know why they did this,” he said, mourning his lifelong friend.

At the Taj, the gunmen broke in room after room and shot occupants at point-blank range. Some were shot in the back. At the Oberoi Hotel, the second luxury hotel to be attacked, one gunman chased diners up a stairwell and at one point turned around and shot dead an elderly man standing behind him.

“I think their intention was to kill as many people as possible and do as much physical damage as possible,” said P. R. S. Oberoi, chairman of the Oberoi Group, which manages the Oberoi and Trident Hotels, adjacent buildings that were both attacked.

Evidence unfolded that the gunmen had killed their victims early on in the siege and left the bodies, apparently fooling Indian security forces into thinking that they were still holding hostages. At the Sir J. J. Hospital morgue, an official in charge of the post-mortems, not authorized to speak to the news media, said that of the 87 bodies he had examined by midafternoon, all but a handful had been killed Wednesday night and early Thursday. By Saturday night, 239 people had been reported wounded.

LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/world ... umbai.html