Indian security officer near Chabad center
Photo: AFP
Injured evacuated
Photo: AP
Barak offers India help
Photo: Yaron Brener
Fear for lives of Israeli hostages at Mumbai Chabad center
(Video) Growing concern for safety of Israelis taken hostage by terrorists after alarming information relayed to top officials in Jerusalem. State officials tell Ynet 20-25 Israeli nationals have yet to contact families following terror attacks in Indian city. Defense Minister Barak offers India help in war on terror

VIDEO - There is growing concern Thursday evening that the Israelis who were taken hostage by terrorists who stormed the Chabad center in Mumbai, India have been killed, this after alarming information was relayed to Israel's senior-most officials. However, there has been no definite word of their fate.


At around 4:30 am Thursday four terrorists took advantage of the fact that local security forces were operating in several locations throughout Mumbai and seized the Chabad center in the city.


Indian soldier near Chabad center (Photo: AFP) 


The gunmen barricaded themselves in the house and took Chabad emissary Gavriel Holtzberg and his family hostage. At around 11 am the emissary's toddler son was removed from the building along with his nanny. 


The parents of hostage Rivka Holtzberg, wife of the Chabad emissary, left for Mumbai in the afternoon hours along with a ZAKA team of physicians and paramedics. Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg took a private plane to Turkey, where they were expected to take a direct flight to India.


Earleir the Foreign Ministry told Ynet that 10 to 15 Israelis are being held hostage in various locations throughout Mumbai following Wednesday's combined terror attacks, among them at least six in the local Chabad offices. Additional Israelis were reportedly held captive in the Oberoi Hotel, where exchanges of fire continue.  


Twenty to 25 Israelis staying in Mumbai have yet to contact their families in Israel.




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Local media reported earlier that a militant holed up in the Chabad center phoned an Indian television channel on to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages, but also to complain about abuses in Indian Kashmir.


"Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages," the man, identified by the India TV channel as Imran, said, speaking in Urdu in what sounded like a Kashmiri accent.


"Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims. Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?"


Trouble receiving accurate details

"This is a huge drama, there is great concern here. We are really extremely anxious," Amnon Kalmar, head of the Foreign Ministry's department for Israelis abroad, told Ynet.


According to Kalmar, the Ministry was experiencing trouble receiving accurate details and facts on the situation.


"The entire affair is extremely vague. It's hard to understand the current state of affairs and this is making our actions difficult.


"The embassy's security officer is near the Chabad center and is trying to deliver the details to us in order to make things clear. It's also difficult to understand the situation from the locals because they were surprised as well."


Kalmar is in touch with the families of Israelis who are known to be in Mumbai but have yet to contact their relatives, as well as families who know their loved ones are trapped inside the Chabad house.


He said that the parents of the Chabad house rabbis were expected to leave for Mumbai urgently.

Chabad house in Mumbai (Photo: AP)


Some 25 people are taking part in the activity of the Foreign Ministry's situation room and have been dispatched to the special headquarters set up. The workers are receiving urgent calls from concerned parents and relatives and are attempting to provide them with answers and gather information in order to form a clear picture of the situation.


"There is a lot of uncertainty," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "There are always many Israelis in that city, and the problem is that most of them haven't even registered in the local consulate.


"Because the number of those who registered is partial, there is no way for us to assess their overall number."


Senior Foreign Ministry official Yossi Regev spoke of the information gathering efforts. "We have been working since yesterday to collect all the available information. Gathering information is our main work, and the most problematic place in this essence is the Chabad house of course. However we still don't have clear details and everything must be restricted."


Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy added, "The Foreign Ministry has developed excellent work relations throughout the years, which are put to the test at times like these."


Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with India's National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan and offered him Israel's assistance, particularly in the war on terror.


Barak expressed his concern for the Israelis in Mumbai, but said he trusts the Indian security forces. "The attacks are part of a global wave of terror, which Israel is quite familiar with," he said.


Meanwhile, terrorists are still seizing the Oberoi Hotel and Chabad center, but the captives' condition is unclear. Indian television network IBN reported that six Israelis are being held hostage in the Chabad building.


A commando unit representative told Ynet that his men had killed one terrorists and that four others remain in the house. Chabad officials said the organization's emissary and his wife are unconscious, and that the couple's toddler son was removed from the building.


'I grabbed the baby and ran out'

Twelve hours after gunmen stormed the Jewish center, Sandra Samuel heard the cries of a small child outside the room in which she had barricaded herself.


She opened the door, grabbed a two-year-old old boy and ran outside with another center worker. They are the only ones to have emerged from the house run by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish group.


"I took the child, I just grabbed the baby and ran out," said Samuel, 44, who has worked as a cook for the center for the last five years.

Child rescued from Chabad center (Photo: AP)


The boy, whom she identified as Moshe Holtzberg, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, was unharmed - but his blood-soaked pants spoke of the horrors inside. Holzberg is the main representative at Chabad house.


Samuel, who was looking after the boy at a nearby police station, said that as she ran out, she saw four people lying on the floor, apparently "unconscious."


Six Israelis, including two kashrut supervisors, are being held in the building. Yehuda, a relative of one of the two men, told Ynet that they likely visited the Chabad house for afternoon and evening prayers.


The two work for an American kashrut organization, and visit many places across the world as part of their job. They arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon.


Roni Sofer, Roni Gal and Reuters contributed to this report


First published: 27.11.08, 13:09
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