Mumbai: At least 78 people, including a foreign tourist and a top counter-terror officer, were killed and about 250 injured as terrorists struck in yet another series of planned and synchronised attacks in the heart of India's financial capital on Wednesday night, authorities said.
Terrorists were reported to be holding tourists and other guests hostage in two five-star hotels, the Taj Intercontinental and Trident (formerly Oberoi), facing the waterfront across the Arabian Sea close to the city's most important landmark, the Gateway of India.
Three top police officials, including Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, were among the nine policemen killed in the firefight with the terrorists, police confirmed.
Among terror targets was the city's busiest railway station, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly the Victoria Terminus that is a World Heritage site.
A nationwide alert was sounded and all airports in the country put on high-security surveillance following the attacks that came less than a month after over 50 people died in serial terror bombings in the northeastern state of Assam.
"This is a most audacious attack. It is a very serious situation and gun battles are still on in at least three places," said Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Mumbai police commissioner Hasan Ghafoor said the attacks were suspected to be "coordinated terrorist acts", and added that automatic weapons like AK-47 and AK-56 and semi-automatic rifles as well as grenades were apparently used.
Maharashtra government spokesman Bhushan Gagarani confirmed 78 people were killed and 250 injured, many of them grievously.
He said two terrorists were killed in gun battles with police while nine were held.
It appeared that small groups of heavily armed terrorists sneaked into busy public places, mostly in south Mumbai, in the dead of the night spreading panic in the crowded metropolis that has been a target of terror attacks in recent years.
Many of the locations targeted, mostly in upscale south Mumbai, were favourite destinations of foreign tourists.
Maharashtra Director General of Police A N Roy said: "At least seven places have been attacked. The figure could be eight.”
"The terrorists have gone in and fired indiscriminately at certain places. They are still holed up in three places and gun-battles have been on (with security forces)."
Five people were killed in a bomb blast targeting a taxi in Vile Parle. The taxi was blown to pieces, police said.
Some senior police officials were reported to have been killed in firefights with terrorists that were going on at more than one place in the city at 1.30 a.m., police said.
Police officials said suspected terrorists opened fire at police and paramilitary forces outside the Hotel Taj Intercontinental in south Mumbai between 10:15 pm and 10:30 pm.
The police officials said firing was on near the five-star hotel where around 2,000 guests and staff were stranded.
The body of a foreign woman guest was recovered from the Taj Hotel and two terrorists were holed up inside the building, a police official said. She was not immediately identified and her nationality was not known.
At least 90 percent of the 22-storey building was plunged into darkness as authorities cut off power in a precautionary measure.
In the wee hours of Thursday, there was an explosion on the top floor of the hotel, leading to a major fire.
Minutes later, bullets were fired near the Hotel Trident - another five-star hotel barely a kilometre away from the Taj. Part of the hotel was said to be on fire. At least 1,000 tourists were inside the hotel, which is in a high-security zone and lies just behind the Air India and Maharashtra legislature buildings.
Those trapped in the two hotels included an unspecified number of foreign guests.
Suspected terrorists also opened indiscriminate firing near the railway station, the headquarters of the Central Railway, which remains crowded almost throughout the day.
As a precautionary measure, authorities suspended suburban and other railway services.
Later in the night, two bomb blasts, one in Vile Parle, a residential suburb in north Mumbai, and another in Mazgaon, also injured an unspecified number of people, police officials said.
Later, firing also took place near the Metro cinema, barely a kilometre away from the CST. An eyewitness said the attackers hijacked a police vehicle after opening fire at two policemen in the vehicle.
All roads linking south Mumbai with the rest of the metropolis were barricaded. Elite Rapid Action Force (RAF) were pressed into action and the targeted locations were cordoned off. A crack team of 200 National Security Guards (NSG) were rushed from New Delhi to Mumbai late in the night.