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MUMBAI, India – Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India”s financial capital Wednesday night, killing at least 101 people and taking Westerners hostage, police said. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

On Thursday morning, police and gunmen were exchanging occasional gunfire at the hotels and an unknown number of people still were being held hostage, said A.N. Roy, a top police official.

Later Thursday morning, police loudspeakers declared a curfew around Mumbai”s landmark Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area, apparently the beginning of an assault on gunmen who had taken hostages in the hotel.

Ambulances drove up to the entrance to the hotel and journalists were made to move even further back from the area.

The NDTV news channel reported that an explosion had been heard at the Trident hotel and that several Israelis were among hostages being held on the 19th floor. NDTV said commandos were preparing for a counterassault there.

Pradeep Indulkar, a senior official at the Maharashtra state Home Ministry said 101 people were killed and 287 injured. Officials said at least six militants had been killed since the overnight attacks began around 9:30 p.m.

A series of explosions had rocked the Taj Mahal just after midnight. Screams were heard and black smoke billowed from the century-old edifice on Mumbai”s waterfront. Firefighters sprayed water at the blaze and plucked people from balconies with extension ladders. After dawn, the fire was still burning.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans at the hotels and restaurant, witnesses said.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the upscale Oberoi hotel, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands

“They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ”Where are you from?” and he said he”s from Italy and they said ”fine” and they left him alone. And I thought: ”Fine, they”re going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn”t,” he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

Early Thursday, state home secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents when they tried to flee in cars, and Roy said two more gunmen were killed at the Taj Mahal. State Home Minister R.R. Patil said nine more were arrested. They declined to provide any further details.

“We”re going to catch them dead or alive,” Patil told reporters. “An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country.”

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify the claim.

NDTV showed several yellow and black rubber dinghies on a beach near the hotels, apparently used by the gunmen to reach the area.

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

”Still not under control”
Meanwhile, army troops began moving into another hotel, the Oberoi, thought to contain hostages.

“The situation is still not under control and we are trying to flush out any more terrorists hiding inside the two hotels,” Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra state, told a news conference Thursday.

The Times of India said more than 900 people were sent to hospitals. That number could not immediately be confirmed.

A U.S. official told NBC News that at least one American was seriously injured but there were no other confirmations of American injuries or deaths.

Officials at Bombay Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans were admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshot wounds. All were brought in from the Taj hotel, the AP reported.

At least three top Indian police officers — including Hemant Karkare, the chief of the anti-terror squad — were among those killed, said Roy, the police official.

Authorities believed seven to 15 foreigners were hostages at the Taj Mahal, said Anees Ahmed, a top state official. It was also unclear where the hostages were in the Taj Mahal, which is divided into an older wing, which was in flames, and a modern tower that was not on fire.

State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties, but were still checking. He said he could not address reports that Westerners might be among the hostages.

Assailants also attacked a police station, the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in southern Mumbai and Leopold”s restaurant, a Mumbai landmark.

Chaotic scene
“I guess they were after foreigners, because they were asking for British or American passports,” said Rakesh Patel, a British witness who lives in Hong Kong and was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on business. “They had bombs.”

“They came from the restaurant and took us up the stairs,” he told the NDTV news channel, smoke stains all over his face. “Young boys, maybe 20 years old, 25 years old. They had two guns.”

Several European lawmakers were among those who were staying at the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city”s best-known destinations.

“I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside,” said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a forthcoming EU-India summit. He turned to get away “and all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us … I just turned and ran in the opposite direction,” he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.

“It was really scary. It was like the sound of loud crackers, not one but several, we just ran out of there,” said Janice Sequeira, a tourist who had been at a restaurant in the Taj.

A European official was among the wounded at the Taj.

“My hotel is surrounded by police and there are gunmen inside,” European lawmaker Ignasi Guardans told Spanish radio from the Taj. “We are in contact with some deputies inside the hotel, with one in a room and another hidden in the kitchen. There”s another official hurt and in hospital.”

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