Three loud explosions rocked the city on Thursday afternoon. According to AFP, the blasts were heard in the local Chabad center and in the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels.
Local police reported that terrorists took over the Chabad offices at around 4:30 am Thursday and appeared to be holding the family of the organization's emissary, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, hostage. Gunshots have been heard from inside the building. Local media reported that there were six Israelis in the building.
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A woman and a child were reportedly seen leaving the building safely on Thursday morning. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yossi Levy confirmed that the rabbi's two-year-old son and his nanny were released. Chabad officials said Holtzberg and his wife Rivka are unconscious.
Indian commando Amit Tiwari told Reuters that one of the gunmen had been killed, but at least four armed men remained in the building. "It is not clear what the gunmen want," Tiwari said. According to reports, Indian commando forces were preparing to rescue the Israeli hostages.
Rivka Holtzberg's mother, Yehudit Rosenberg, told Ynet, "I'm praying for them. I heard the nanny was questioned, and that they're alive but unconscious."
The Israeli consul-general informed the family of the rabbi's wife that the couple's toddler son had been handed over to a local security officer. The family plans to leave for India on the first flight through London later Thursday.
Yosef Lev, one of the members of a logistic institution belonging to Chabad in New York, told Ynet that Rabbi Holtzberg's father lives in New York City and is "one of the well-known characters here. I saw him. He was told that they don't know for sure what has happened there. There is fear and uncertainty.
"Jewish Law says mitzvah emissaries are not harmed, and we believe things will work out fine and no Jew will be hurt."
The Holtzberg family (Archive photo: col.org.il)
Rabbi Avraham Binyamin, the leader of the Jewish community in India, arrived in Mumbai and told Ynet of the Holtzberg family.
"Gavriel knows Mumbai very well. He is there with his wife and children. We don't know what exactly happened to them and what their condition is."
He said he believes the terrorists seized the Chabad building by chance and that they were not aiming to hurt Jews. "The Chabad house is very close to the Taj Mahal Hotel. We'll pray to God that everything will be okay and everyone returns safely."
Thousands of gawkers stood in the narrow alleyways near the white, five-story building, where heavy curtains hung behind windows broken by gunfire. Neighbors had tried to protect the house as armed gunmen seized it Wednesday night.
A witness said three people were killed in the attack, but the account could not be confirmed.
"It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house and threw a grenade at a gas pump nearby," said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, adding the attackers then "stormed the Chabad house."
The house serves as an educational center, a synagogue and offers drug prevention services.
Residents tried to protect the center, clashing with the gunmen and throwing rocks at them in an effort to drive the militants away, said Puran Doshi, a local businessman who lives nearby.
The crowd eventually retreated under fire from the gunmen, who wounded one man, killed three others and threw several hand grenades, he said. Police could not immediately confirm his account. "They shot indiscriminately into the crowd," Doshi said.
'No Israelis on lists of casualties'
The Foreign Ministry has yet to receive solid information on the condition of Israelis staying in Mumbai. According to reports, there are no Israelis on the lists of casualties at local hospitals. Several Israelis have yet to contact their families, and the Foreign Ministry is attempting to locate them.
Indian news network IBN aired photos from Nariman House, where Chabad offices are located, showing the house surrounded by security forces. The network reported of exchanges of fire heard in the area but did not report on the condition of the people inside the building.
Chabad's website reported Wednesday night that the organization's emissary to India and his wife were missing. The couple has a two-year-old child. According to the report, one of Holtzberg's friends received an email from the rabbi at around 11:30 pm (local time). Israeli Consulate was in touch with Holtzberg, but the line was cut in middle of the conversation.
Menachem Cohen, editor of the Chabad On Line (COL) website, told Ynet that "Gabby Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were sent to India several years ago by the Education Center, which sends Chabad emissaries across the world."
The Chabad organization is working with the Foreign Ministry and American Consulate, as well as with a local team of volunteers, in a bid to locate the Holtzberg family and other Jews staying in Mumbai.
The Foreign Ministry's situation room operated in full capacity throughout the night since the attacks began. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is being briefed on the situation constantly. The diplomatic team in India is working to locate the Israelis and move them to safe areas.
Indian security officer near Chabad center (Photo: AFP)
Livni spoke to the Israeli consul-general in Mumbai on Thursday morning. She later issued a statement saying. "I condemn the criminal terror attack still taking place in Mumbai. This is another painful reminder that the threat of terrorism is the greatest challenge Israel and the international community are dealing with.
"Nothing justifies the unforgivable murder of innocent people, and thus the international community must cooperate in the ongoing war against this despicable and wicked phenomenon. I send my sincere condolences to the victims' families. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Indian government and people."
Foreign Ministry representative Lior Chayat told Ynet, "We are aware of the reports on what is happening in Nariman House, but we have no official confirmation. We are in contact with the local forces, with the army and police commanders there.
"The Indians are treating this event as one with hostages, but we have no information on what is happening inside the building."
Hayat added that throughout the night the Foreign Ministry's situation room received calls from 300 Israelis who are looking for their loved ones in India and believe they may be in Mumbai.
The Foreign Ministry announced that the situation room in Jerusalem and the Israeli consul general's command in Mumbai are making efforts to contact Israelis staying in the city. It is still not clear how many Israelis are being held hostage. The Foreign Ministry ordered the consulate in Mumbai be reinforced and guards from the embassy in New Delhi have been deployed to Mumbai.
The battles between the terrorists and the Indian security forces continued Thursday morning at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels. Indian commandos freed hostages from the Taj Mahal hotel but battled on with gun-toting Islamist militants who launched an audacious attack across India's financial capital.
The gunmen arrived by boats in Mumbai on Wednesday, before fanning out and attacking luxury hotels, a landmark cafe, hospitals and a railway station, firing indiscriminately.
Some 17 hours after the late-evening assault, soldiers and militants were still exchanging intermittent fire and more than 100 people were trapped inside rooms of the Taj Mahal hotel, a 105-year-old city landmark.
"People who were held up there, they have all been rescued," Maharashtra state police chief A.N. Roy told the NDTV news channel. "But there are guests in the rooms, we don't know how many."
Roy said some people were still apparently being held hostage at the nearby Trident/Oberoi Hotel. "That is why the operation is being conducted more sensitively to ensure there are no casualties of innocent people."
Police said at least six foreigners were killed and another 287 people were wounded in the attacks, which were claimed by the little-known Deccan Mujahideen group.
"Release all the mujahideens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled," said a militant inside the Oberoi, speaking to Indian television by telephone.
The man, who identified himself only as Sahadullah, said he was one of seven attackers inside the hotel, and wanted Islamist militants to be freed from Indian jails.
One Indian television channel said Israelis were also among five to six hostages being held at the Trident/Oberoi hotel in a separate siege in the city.
Battles for the release of hostages were reportedly being held also in a women and children's hospital in southern Mumbai.
Results of attack (Photo: Reuters)
So far, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in the combined terror attack, including 12 Indian police officers and Hemant Karkare, the chief of the police anti-terrorist squad in Mumbai. Police said they had shot dead four gunmen and arrested nine suspects.
A little-know group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen sent an email to news organisations claiming responsibility for the attacks, television channels said.
Witnesses said the attackers were young South Asian men speaking Hindi or Urdu, suggesting that they were probably members of an Indian militant group rather than foreigners.
India has suffered a wave of bomb attacks in recent years. Most have been blamed on Islamist militants, although police have also suspected Hindu extremists of carrying out some bombings.
Jonatahan Weber, Roni Sofer, Roni Gal, Tal Rabinovsky, Reuters, AFP and The Associated Press contributed to this report