A 60-hour terror rampage that killed 195 people across India’s financial capital ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen inside a luxury hotel while it was engulfed in flames.
Authorities searched for any remaining captives hiding in their rooms and began to shift their focus to who was behind the attacks, which killed 18 foreigners including six Americans.
A previously unknown Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman was from Pakistan and pointed a finger of blame at their neighbor and rival.
Islamabad denied involvement and promised to help in the investigation. A team of FBI agents also was on its way to India to lend assistance.
Some 295 people also were wounded in the violence that started when at least a dozen heavily armed assailants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai on Wednesday night. At least 20 soldiers and police were among the dead.
Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege there in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found nine hostages dead.
“There were three terrorists, we have killed them,” said J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite National Security Guard commando unit.
Later, adoring crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven commandos, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. The commandos, dressed in black fatigues, said they had been ordered not to talk about the operation, but said they had not slept since the ordeal began. One sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.
With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India’s history, attention turned from the military operation to questions of who was behind the attack and the heavy toll on human life.
The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. Two Israelis and another American were also killed in the house, said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.
Among the foreigners killed were six Americans, according to the U.S. Embassy. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.
By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.
“There is a limit a city can take. This is a very, very different kind of fear. It will be some time before things get back to normal,” said Ayesha Dar, a 33-year-old homemaker.
Indians began cremating their dead, many of them security force members killed fighting the gunmen. In the southern city of Bangalore, black clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.
“He gave up his own life to save the others,” Dutt said from Mumbai.
Bhushan Gagrani, the Maharashtra state government spokesman, told The Associated Press that at least 11 gunmen had been killed and one captured alive.
On Saturday the Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.
Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said the trawler, named Kuber, had been found Thursday and was brought to Mumbai. Officials said they believe the boat had sailed from a port in the neighboring state of Gujarat.
Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the site of the attacks.
A group called Deccan Mujahideen, which alludes to a region in southern India traditionally ruled by Muslim kings, claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan.
Jaiprakash Jaiswal, India‘s home minister, said the captured gunman had been identified as a Pakistani.
“According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks,” India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his country was not involved. His government was sending an intelligence official to assist in the probe.
In the U.S., President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. “These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India’s great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them,” he said in a statement.
On Friday, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said.
But in the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center.
For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch. At one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel’s Channel 1 TV that some of the victims found at the center had been bound.
The attackers were well-prepared, carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.
India has been shaken repeatedly by terror attacks blamed on Muslim militants in recent years, but most were bombings striking crowded places: markets, street corners, parks. Mumbai — one of the most highly populated cities in the world with some 18 million people — was hit by a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.
The latest attacks began Wednesday at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes — the Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals.