TAJ MAHAL HOTEL ON FIRE
Two Australians have been injured as heavily armed Islamist militants hit two luxury hotels and took foreign guests hostage in a series of co-ordinated attacks in Mumbai early this morning.
Four suspects have been shot dead by police and nine more arrested over the attacks, which killed at least 80 people and injured 250 others.
A 20-person trade delegation from NSW and former Neighbours actor Brooke Satchwell were among those caught up in the violence.
The delegation was staying at the Trident Hotel, formerly known as the Oberoi Hotel, one of two hotels targeted by the gunmen who took an unknown number of foreigners hostage and exchanged fire with anti-terrorist commando units who stormed the hotels.
The other hotel that came under attack was the Taj Mahal Hotel, which is around 1km from the Trident.
Satchwell told Nine News she was visiting friends in a hotel less than 250m from the Taj when she heard gunshots.
“I had actually gone downstairs to the front of the hotel to have a cigarette — which I’ve been trying to give up — I came back in and went via the bathrooms which are on the ground floor next to the lobby,” she said.
“As I stepped inside the bathroom, gunshots started to go off and they were in the lobby just outside.
“There were probably about six of us in the bathroom and everybody sort of froze and then I think adrenaline kicked in and it became pretty clear what was going on.
“There was someone dead out the front of the bathroom and probably about 45 minutes later, some of the hotel officials came in and they sort of shepherded us out across the foyer.
“There was chaos. Nobody really knew what was going on and I don’t think they knew where anybody was or what the plan was.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed two Australians had been injured. Acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean said the injuries were not life-threatening.
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Melbourne man Pravin Shetty told ninemsn his family lived close to the Taj hotel and had been watching with terror as the attacks on Mumbai unfolded.
“I have just spoken to my brother and he said he could still hear shots being fired,” Mr Shetty said.
“He said the military have surrounded the hotel and have started rescuing hundreds of foreign people from the hotel.”
Issac Zalme this morning told TODAY he and nine other Australians in Mumbai for a wedding had been hiding in their hotel.
“We were in a restaurant … and there’s been bomb blasts and shootings on tourist centres. We’ve heard gunfire. We’re fairly safe as far as we know, we’re in a back street and all the walls are boarded up but it is very tense.”
“At one stage we were hearing shots only 50m away. The whole city is on lockdown.”
“We haven’t been told anything but we’re not going anywhere.”
“The places that have been targeted are obviously tourist spots. Four or five of them we were at only an hour before it all went down.”
The chief minister of Maharashtra state said the situation was still not under control.
“We are trying to flush out any more terrorists hiding inside the two hotels,” Vilasrao Deshmukh told a news conference a short time ago.
Earlier, naval commandos stormed the Taj, apparently leading to the release of some guests inside, with television footage showing people being shepherded out of the building.
Shortly afterwards, the upper floors of the landmark hotel became engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke billowed out from its distinctive red dome. It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.
Police said two gunmen were shot dead, but two more were still believed to be holed up inside the hotel.
Fire engines were brought in and trapped guests were rescued from their bedroom windows.
There was also a standoff at the Trident hotel, where at least two gunmen were believed to be holding out.
Several men armed with AK-47 rifles had also stormed into the passenger hall of Mumbai’s main Chhatrapati Shivaji railway and opened fire and thrown grenades.
Elsewhere, firing was also reported at Cama Hospital in south Mumbai, and three people were reported killed in what police called a “bomb blast” in a taxi in the southeast of the city.
One British guest at the Taj told local Indian television that he had been among a dozen people herded together by two heavily armed men and taken up to the hotel’s upper floors.
“They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts,” the guest said.
“They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports and then they took us up the stairs. I think they wanted to take us to the roof,” he said, adding that he and another hostage managed to escape on the 18th floor.
The Taj, opposite the British colonial era Gateway of India, is one of the world’s leading hotels.
The head of the Madrid government and a British member of the European Parliament were inside when the gunmen stormed the building but escaped unhurt.
“All I saw was one man on foot carrying a machine gun-type of weapon — which I then saw him firing from and I saw people hitting the floor, people right next to me,” MEP Sajjad Karim was quoted as saying by the BBC website.
A fellow MEP from Spain, Ignasi Guardans, spoke to Spain’s Radio Nacional network as he took shelter in a restaurant.