'We want US and British' say Mumbai gunmen
MUMBAI (AFP) — The young gunmen roaming the corridors of two luxury hotels in Mumbai were shooting wildly, but they knew exactly what sort of guests they intended to take hostage.
"They told everybody to stop and put their hands up and asked if there were any British or Americans," Alex Chamberlain, a British guest at the Oberoi/Trident hotel, said after fleeing his captors via a fire escape.
"My friend said to me, 'don't be a hero, don't say you are British.'"
Gunmen held an unknown number of hostages inside the hotel and at the iconic Taj Mahal hotel overnight and through much of Thursday.
Chamberlain told Indian television that he and other guests had been herded together by the gunmen and taken up to the upper floors of the hotel.
Rakesh Patel, a guest at the Taj, said that "they were after foreigners, because they were asking for British or American passports."
"They came from the restaurant and took us up the stairs," Patel, a British citizen based in Hong Kong, told the NDTV news channel, his face blackened by smoke.
"They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," he said, adding that he and another hostage managed to escape on the 18th floor.
One woman staying at the Taj told how she lay on the floor of one room with 25 other petrified guests as gunmen fought special commandos.
"That was, without doubt, the worst experience of my entire life," she told reporters. "It was a very, very painful six hours.
"We could hear the army coming through the hotel. We heard the firing and the blasts. In the end the firemen broke the windows of the room and we climbed down the ladder."
Military units stormed the Taj hotel in the early hours of Thursday morning to confront a handful of gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenades.
In the encounter a huge fire broke out at the top of the hotel, trapping some guests.
US citizen Marilyn Ernsteen, who was with her husband Joseph, said they thought the gunfire was fireworks until hotel staff said they should lock themselves in their rooms and turn off the lights.
"I didn't know what was going on. I was terrified," she told AFP.
Taking only her passport and purse, she and her husband, who are from Chicago, escaped from their fourth-floor room Thursday morning through smoky hallways and out a fire exit.
Australian television actress Brooke Satchwell, a former star in the soap opera Neighbours, hid inside a small cupboard when violence erupted at the Taj.
"As I stepped inside the lobby gunshots started to go off," she said. "It was really terrifying. There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom."
The head of the Madrid government and a British member of the European Parliament were inside the Taj when the gunmen attacked but escaped unhurt.
"I saw 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.
An Australian student said his girlfriend was shot and wounded when other gunmen stormed the Cafe Leopold restaurant in Mumbai and opened fire.
David Coker, 23, and his partner Katie Anstee, 24, were on holiday to celebrate graduating from university.
"We had literally just ordered and then it seemed like firecrackers -- people were screaming," he told The Courier-Mail newspaper.
Anstee was shot in the leg, with the bullet breaking her femur and exiting through the front of her thigh, while Coker was grazed by a bullet.
"I turned around and she was crawling out the door because she couldn't walk," he said.