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Mumbai Siege Ends With Gunmen's Deaths


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Indian commandos today killed the last few remaining gunmen holed up in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. This ended a siege that began two and a half days ago when terrorists stormed through the city, grabbed hostages, and began to kill people indiscriminately. India's TV stations say - these were their words - that the city is now liberated. The number of dead now stands at 195, although that number could rise. But India is only just beginning to take stock of the massive impact of what some were calling India's 9/11. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from Mumbai. Phil, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES: You're welcome.

SIMON: How did the siege end?

REEVES: Well, it ended this morning when there was a burst of gunfire - several bursts of gun fire. And then some fires began - one on the bottom floor of the hotel and then one in the room above. And for a minute or two it looked as if the fires might actually rage out of control. And there was fire elsewhere in the building, too, at the time. And shortly after this, the fire brigade arrived, put out the blaze, and the police announced that they were in control of the building. And officials said that the three terrorists who had been in -holding out in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel were now dead.

SIMON: And I gather that the commandos, many of whom have gone without rest for three days, were given quite a reception when they were finally roistered out.

REEVES: Yes, they are being seen, the security forces here, generally as heroes. Although it must be said that recriminations are beginning in the sense that there is criticism of why the security forces - of course, one means the intelligence services - didn't manage to detect a plot of this intricacy and scale. And that debate is just beginning in this country as it takes stock of this very traumatic event.

SIMON: And, of course, I gather that Indian officials are saying pretty explicitly now that they believe a force or forces centered in Pakistan figured into these attacks. What's the latest on that in, obviously, an area that could be very touchy over the next few weeks?

REEVES: Yes, it will be. And it is putting a lot of strain on a relationship where there had been considerable improvement in recent years. The Indians are saying that elements in Pakistan are responsible. The Pakistanis believe this is unfair. The Pakistani government has made that clear. And, you know, we'll now see a period of frostiness between the two neighbors. There are other political implications to this, though. The government of Manmohan Singh, the ruling Indian government, will be criticized, and there's an election coming up here. And there's also, as I said, questions being asked about why the security services failed so badly.

SIMON: Phil, are any of these questions and the tension that it implies evident in relations between Muslims and Hindus there in Mumbai or the rest of the country?

REEVES: Yeah. I mean, these are always quite fragile, and they have been particularly in recent months because there have been a series of bombings in Indian cities. Some of these have been blamed on Islamist militants. It does put pressure on the Muslim minority. I say minority. There are 160 million Muslims in India. In fact, I met a man today who was going around the streets with his mobile phone showing people videos on it in which he showed how he helped rescue victims of these attacks, saying he's a Muslim and look how he was helping out, and also pointing out that some of the victims were Muslims. He said he was doing this because he was anxious that the communal relations between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority would be damaged badly by what's happened in Mumbai over the last three days.

SIMON: And Phil, I gather the Pakistani government has already sent high-level emissaries and investigators. And President Zardari has said that if this is traced back to Pakistan, he will take immediate action.

REEVES: Yeah. You know, there's a lot of politics involved here. It is not uncommon for Indians to blame Pakistanis after terrorist attacks in India of involvement. They did the same when Mumbai was attacked in 2006. It's difficult to know what degree of real cooperation will take place. But it is in the context of a relationship between the Pakistani government under the new president, Asif Ali Zardari, and Dr. Manmohan Singh of India. That was looking reasonably promising against a landscape, of course, which is extremely bleak, especially in Pakistan suffering from economic meltdown and a growing Islamist militant threat, in fact pretty much chaos in parts of the northwest of that country.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves, thanks to you and all of our other correspondents there this week on duty in Mumbai. Thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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