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THE SITUATION ROOM
Attacks in India
Aired November 26, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, about five minutes away, just up the road from that Taj Hotel is the Oberoi Hotel, where there is also a hostage situation. We saw pictures just a few minutes ago of commandos arriving in front of that hotel. As I was speaking to you before, Miles, there was reports of a very loud explosion as those commandos went into the Oberoi. At this stage, we don't know what's happening in there. But we are aware that there are hostages in there. We just don't know the exact status at the moment.
This is the commercial capital of India. This is the place that businesspeople and tourists usually come to start their trip to India -- Miles.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so, Andrew, it would be tantamount to an attack on New York here in the United States then. This is the -- and I guess that landmark, would that be a landmark of equal importance to the World Trade Center then?
STEVENS: Well, it would be a landmark of historic significance. Anybody who's been to Mumbai would know the Taj, if they've been in any shape or form a tourist in this city, because it's right next to probably the best known landmark, which is the gateway to India that was erected in the 1800s. It was a...
O'BRIEN: All right, Andrew, I'm sorry.
STEVENS: It was the...
O'BRIEN: Andrew, I've got to interrupt.
STEVENS: ...initial embarkation point...
O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I have to interrupt you.
O'BRIEN: We're going to listen to IBN, our sister network, for just a moment, as they describe the scene there at the Taj.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...is currently on and we do believe just like the Oberoi Hotel, it's going to be the RAF that's going to lead this operation.
But you see those visuals and perhaps, any average Mumbaiker or someone who's visited that city, their hearts would sink, in a sense. This is the landmark. It's built in 1903, in a sense. It has a great, unique history. You've seen everyone come and stay there -- everyone want to come and stay there -- heads of state, tycoons of corporations, captains of industry, jet setters, the average Mumbaiker, everyone would want to come stay here, have a look at the hotel.
It's got a mix of the new and the old -- the modern and the old. And over the past century, as I've been describing to you, the insides of this hotel, which symbolize all the history -- the paintings, the chandeliers, the carpets, etc. which are all part of our history. And today, you can see some portion of that going up in flames.
This particular operation is still not over. And one would hope there would be less fallout of it, in a sense, of terms of casualties, etc. But this night's going to continue. (INAUDIBLE) all at three different hot spots. And, of course, not to forget the Cama Hospital, where there are patients, hospital staff -- four to five hospital staff, as the government spokesperson told us, have already fallen prey to the terrorists' bullets. We can't confirm the complete figure that's coming out from there -- but a hospital, two different hotels still currently the flashpoints that terrorists are holding up innocent citizens.
Rualpinda Chapais (ph) is going to take this for the next 60 minutes, as we continue this round the clock coverage...
O'BRIEN: All right. That -- that comes from IBN, our sister network there in India.
We were talking to Andrew Stevens.
I hope we still have him with us -- Andrew, we were talking and you -- you mentioned almost as an aside that you had spoken to somebody inside that hotel. I imagine it wasn't a very long conversation. But what struck me is they've told people to stay in their rooms.
Who said that?
Was that the terrorists?
Was that the authorities?
Where did that come from?
STEVENS: No. There were -- yes, they were getting calls for -- from the front desk. Basically, they -- this friend of mine told me that he had -- that he was in his room. It was right around about 10:00 p.m. in the evening. He heard cracks and unusual noises downstairs. He assumed they were drums, because there had been a lot of drumming -- a sort of festive drumming in and around this part of Mumbai in the past few days.
He went out to investigate and as he stepped out of his hotel room, he heard very clear reports of gunfire.
So he moved back into his room immediately, followed quite soon after by a call from the front desk saying that we are -- we are in a terror situation, please turn off your lights. We are turning off the television. I guess they turn off the television because they don't want the people inside the hotels to know exactly the situation -- how dangerous it could be. And just sit there and wait until further notice.
Now, the hotel did manage to shepherd quite a few people out when the gunmen first arrived. The local security there, I'm being told, did get quite a few people out.
But, obviously, at that time of night, a lot of people are in their rooms. This is quite a big hotel, Miles. This has several hundred rooms. It's also got an adjacent high rise wing.
So there are -- we don't know how many, but there are a lot of people sitting in their rooms, not knowing what's going on, hearing now, I think -- told by someone else they have been hearing what sounds like explosions, what sounds like clashes inside the hotel rooms. And they are sitting there literally and figuratively in the dark. It must it be absolutely terrifying.
O'BRIEN: That just sounds horrifying, Andrew.
So you -- I think you answered one of my questions.
There is no power to the hotel at this point?
STEVENS: I can't answer that question. They were told to turn off the lights, though. And they turned the television system off because they didn't want their guests sort of, I suppose, seeing just exactly how bad the situation was. I don't know now everything may have changed because of this fire. They may have lost power now there at the moment.
But what we can say and what we understand is that the Indian military, we think -- and I must stress that this is not confirmed -- the Indian military is actually inside that hotel, attempting to get to hostages and, also, get to hostage takers.
As we keep on saying, it's an -- it's an incredibly fluid situation. We just don't know what's going on there.
O'BRIEN: All right.
Andrew Stevens, thank you very much.
Stay close by and continue to work your sources. And by all means, if you hear from anybody in that hotel, please let us know.
On the line with us right now is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our medical correspondent, who has had the opportunity to stay in this historic hotel -- Sanjay, describe the building as we watch it go up in flames.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable to see these images. I was at that hotel just last year, not that long ago. It is one of these really grand hotels, Miles. There's sort of an older part of the hotel, which is -- which is really beautiful and very ornate. And I can't tell exactly looking at some of the images that you're looking at, but it may be that area that is now in flames. And there's a much newer part of the hotel, as well.
It is a -- it is a true five star hotel that, you know, the -- a lot of Westerns stay there, as you've mentioned, a few times in the past. It is right across from the gateway of India, as well, Miles, just to paint a little bit of a picture for you. And the ocean is right in front of the hotel. So it's a really beautiful site, as well.
And this area of Mumbai -- Bombay -- is known for being the home of Bollywood, which is the big movie industry. It's sort of their equivalent of Hollywood -- except this area, as well, is very densely populated. So you can think about it as a sort of as a combination of L.A. and New York. It's populated like New York and has that sort of film/movie feel like L.A. .
And this -- this hotel is one of the grand hotels sort of in the middle of all this. So it is -- it is shocking to see some of these images here -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. All right.
A landmark hotel now the target of terrorists, possibly a hostage situation in there. Westerners possibly taken hostage by the terrorists. We don't have details on the numbers right now, but do have reports that as the terrorists descended upon their targets -- this one, in particular -- they were asking for passports, specifically looking for U.S. and British and other Western nationals.
Let's turn now to our CNN justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, who's been tracking things from her post -- Kelli, what do you know?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, I can tell you, the group that allegedly claimed responsibility for these attacks, a group named Deccan Mujahedeen, I've been told to be very careful, as one expert put it. That's like saying it was the Kansas Mujahedeen. Deccan is a region in Southern India.
Intelligence analysts believe that it's probably just another new name for domestic terrorist groups that are operating there.
As I told you before, Miles, this attack was very different than attacks that we have seen before in the region. It was much more coordinated -- as you have mentioned, specifically targeting Westerners and economic targets.
So when that -- when that first came out, there was a lot of speculation that this may involve a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. It's a Pakistani group. It's an offshoot of Al Qaeda.
Just because it sort of looked like their M.O. -- it looked like something they would do -- nothing firm, of course. I did just get a message, Miles, from M.J. Gohel, who is with the Asia Pacific Foundation -- one of the foremost experts in that region. He says: "This attack was disturbingly unique. There have been terrorist attacks before, not like this. This aimed specifically at Westerners. I believe the cell probably had an indigenous component with international assistance. Terrorists were looking specifically for British and Americans. A very worrying situation."
So, Miles, unfortunately, this is something that the terrorism experts have not seen before in this region. FBI, unfortunately, does not have any personnel on the ground in Mumbai. They do have personnel on the ground in New Delhi. But as you heard from Pat DeMorrow (ph) before and my other colleagues, unless we are asked to go in and help with this investigation, you know, we stay put. The U.S. stays put.
So there has not been an official request for cooperation from the FBI yet. But, of course, this is still very early, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right.
Thank you very much, Kelli Arena.
We appreciate that.
Let's go -- let's go now to Nic Robertson.
We're looking at some new pictures coming in, by the way, of the scene there. It's obviously a chaotic scene -- panicked people walking the streets, not really knowing which way to go. At one point we saw earlier some amateur video -- a police vehicle going by a crowd. The crowd obviously rather unsuspecting. The police vehicle opening fire on that crowd -- obviously, commandeered by the terrorists.
There you see the authorities as they attempt to regain control of a city that really is under the control of terrorists right now, with a focus on Westerners -- the desired target being Westerners. There you see that police van I was telling you about shooting at a crowd of people. Imagine the terror they must have felt -- already panic-stricken by what had gone on, seeing a police vehicle and having the police vehicle open fire on them.
What do we know about this group?
What do we know what their goals might be?
Probably not a lot. But we do know this. Islamic extremism is suspected here.
Our Nic Robertson knows an awful lot about that subject.
He joins us now from London -- Nic, the fact that Westerners have been targeted here, that does set this attack part, as Kelli Arena was reporting, does set it apart from previous attacks in India, doesn't it?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. There are several things here, Miles, when we analyze what's happened tonight in Mumbai that set this apart from previous attacks.
We've seen a coordinated, sophisticated attack. That is an M.O. we've seen a lot of before in India. But, in those previous attacks in India, where over 3,000 people have been killed in the past few years, in previous attacks, they've all been coordinated bombing attacks -- three bombs in one situation, five bombs recently in Delhi, 16 small bombs in another attack very recently, as well.
So this is set apart because the gunmen went in as gunmen, using guns and grenades -- just small groups of them, by the accounts of eyewitnesses, going into these Western targets. That is the other thing, as Kelli has said, that sets this apart, that the target here at least appears to be Westerners, if not to certainly get the message out about this terror group to an international audience by targeting sites -- the hotels, cafes used by international businessmen, used by international tourists in the City of Mumbai.
So there are several things that make it different. But what's making it very, very tough for the police at the moment and the army now to try and deal with this situation, they need to lock down and secure this city of 19 million people, because they need to stop the potential for any others coming to aid and assist in the hostage taking.
They need to stop the hostage takers getting out and moving around to other locations. And their situation is made doubly complex because the head of intelligence in the city, the person who may well have led negotiations in a hostage standoff situation, has been killed in the early hours of these attacks. It appears he went into one of the hotels to deal with the situation and was very quickly, after that, killed.
So the situation, it is volatile. They've got an ongoing hostage situation in a hotel where it is on fire, where there are guests in other rooms. The head of intelligence, who would normally deal with it, has been killed. There are hostage taking situations in several locations.
So as we piece all this together, it is clearly a complex and well-coordinated type of attack.
It raises the question what exactly was the target?
Was it these Westerners who we have reports that have been kidnapped? Were some of the other attacks diversionary so that they could confuse the police and take these -- and take the people who have been kidnapped to another location?
That, of course, is what the army and the police will be doing on the streets, to secure the streets and go into all the known locations for groups who may believed to have been behind this, so that they can search and make sure there isn't a destination where the terror group is planning from, plotting further attacks tonight, or, indeed, trying to get these hostages to. That will be utmost in the police's mind tonight now -- Miles. O'BRIEN: All right. Nic Robertson, stand by there.
We're going to back with you, as we continue trying to unravel all of this.
CNN's Kathleen Koch, joining us from the White House, has some new information -- Kathleen.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles. Just as these series of deadly attacks were breaking out there in Mumbai, President Bush was leaving the White House, heading to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, where he's going to be spending the Thanksgiving holiday, returning on Saturday.
And I contacted Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto not too many minutes ago. And he said, yes, indeed, when the president arrived at his presidential retreat, he was informed of these series of attacks. And he said the president is being kept updated on the situation. Certainly, the White House is quite concerned about -- about these attacks happening in a major U.S. ally. Tony saying: "We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life -- back to you, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Kathleen Koch at the White House.
Please keep us posted as we hear further from the White House.
Let's go back to our sister network, IBN, and listen to their coverage, as they are in front of some of these key places that have been targeted and, in some cases, are in flames. And they're talking, I believe, about, in this case, this landmark hotel, the Taj Hotel.
Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, now, just look at this picture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, for those of you who may have just joined in a short while back, you have missed out all that's happened in the last five hours, this is what has happened in Mumbai over these last five hours.
This is live footage -- live pictures coming from the Taj Hotel. Reports coming in that 50 people have been rescued now. We were just showing you the kind of demonstration that has struck this hotel, where the top dorm of the hotel was almost gone completely up in smoke. You are seeing that some attempt has been made there by the fire brigade authorities to try and control the fire. But you can see people making an attempt -- trying to reach out for -- trying to reach out for some help while standing in their room balconies.
We are hearing that the cops are making all-out attempts to ensure that all those who may have been stuck on any floor in any room are brought out.
There was some -- there was some suspicion, some rumor, that maybe there could be some terrorists who could still be holed up inside the hotel, which led to the possibility of maybe a hostage-like situation happening in the Taj Hotel, also. But that's, fortunately, not turned out to be the case.
Five bombs -- imagine, five bombs being exploded in one five star hotel.
Prachi Jatania, are you still there?
Now, 50 people have been rescued. Give us a sense of just how many people are still inside the Taj Hotel.
PRACHI JATANIA: All 650 that came out earlier from the new building of Taj Mahal, they were -- most of them were foreign tourists and (INAUDIBLE) who had come from countries outside -- foreign delegates really who were here for a meeting.
Of the 60 people, they are saying that another -- another set of 60 are expected to be in the danger zone, really, in the old building of Taj as we speak. As the police is making every effort, including the anti-terror squad, making every effort to try and move them out to safety.
The entire area has been cordoned off. Two more vans -- really, rescue vans of the fire brigade have also reached.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes?
JATANIA: These really -- these are tall structures. This new building is far higher -- vertically higher than the old building. So it becomes a tougher task, really, a challenge for the fire brigade officials, who are gearing up to try and get their ladders up to the fifth floor of the old building and rescue as many people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
JATANIA: I had just pointed out a few minutes ago, Bupain (ph), that there were screams of female voices crying out for help. Now, we are -- we are being told by the police that these foreign tourists, these women tourists have been moved to a safer area as we speak.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
Our correspondent, Toral Varia, is also with us. She is also present right at the spot where people are now being evacuated -- Toral, describe to us what you're seeing.
From what we can gather, on the basis of these pictures that we're currently playing, is that all-out attempts are being made to control this fire.
But any idea about whether there are still terrorists holed up inside the hotel?
How many people are still stuck inside the Taj Hotel? TORAL VARIA: There is no official word on the exact number of people holed up inside the hotel and the exact number of terrorists who are possibly holding more, you know, people in the hotel (INAUDIBLE). But what -- but the scenes I'm seeing right before my eyes is that of relieved faces of many (INAUDIBLE) persons who were just -- who have just been evacuated from the fire exit of the Taj Hotel.
There is Germans. There are Americans...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) anyone around you.
Tell us if there's anyone around you who might just be making an attempt to get out of the hotel?
If you could quickly do a full interview with any of them and just give us a sense of what really has been happening inside the Taj Hotel over the last five hours.
VARIA: We have been trying to speak to people, but they are just not willing to talk to us. They're in a state of shock. But I will make an attempt to try and get in touch with at least one person.
Excuse me. This is CNN.
Can you speak about your experiences?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. No experience.
VARIA: Just nobody is willing to talk right now because they just want to reach home. And they're being put into, you know, buses arranged by the hotel. And they're being sent across.
But we will try and speak with some of the people available here and try and get back to you as to what their experiences have been.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. Sure. I understand. I understand that it must be -- it must be an extremely difficult moment for anyone who must have spent these last five hours...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...which would probably be one of the most tragic ones and one of the most scary experiences. This is not the kind of experience that one would have expected to get in a plush and a luxurious hotel such as the Taj Hotel. But then, well, this entire area is always considered to be an extremely safe area.
As you were pointing out, the gateway of India has been targeted by terrorists, but not so the Taj Hotel.
Toral, are you there?
Are you still seeing people coming out?
Are you still -- where exactly are these people being taken now? VARIA: Well, they are being taken to a safe location. Bupain (ph), I am with one Mr. Rani (ph), who is now relieved. And he has just said that he is -- he managed to get out of the hotel (INAUDIBLE).
So would you like to share your experiences just -- this is CNN...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to...
(SPEAKING IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE)
VARIA: Bupain (ph), could you -- could you listen to him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Toral.
VARIA: ...him saying...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Toral. We could hear that. We could hear that, Toral.
VARIA: But that's all -- that's all the words that they are willing to talk to us at this point in time. They are in a state of shock. They are...
O'BRIEN: That is our sister network in India, IBN, reporting live from the scene, as the Taj Hotel continues to burn. An ongoing hostage situation. We believe Westerners are the target there of the terrorists. And reports of at least 50 people, some of them Westerners, who were safely -- who have safely gotten out of the hotel.
We just heard briefly from one person who was speaking in Hindi and said, according to Zain Verjee, "I survived."
And beyond that, we will try to get you a translation -- get you a sense of what the people inside the hotel are saying right now.
John McLaughlin is a former acting CIA director who looks at security matters for us -- John, as you watch this unfold, put this in a little bit of context for us.
The Islamic terrorists in India, what is their -- in a broad sense, what is their goal?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think what we probably have going on here, Miles, is evidence of something we have seen developing slowly in recent years. And that is a growth in the connections between Islamic terrorism in India and Islamic terrorism more broadly globally.
There have been indications in recent years that Al Qaeda, for example, has tightened its relationship with Islamic terrorists, who dispute the status of the province of Kashmir in Northwestern India. So my guess, at this point, there are about four different kinds of terrorist groups in India, ranging from Maoist rebels to tribal- based ethnic separatists. My guess at this point is that we're probably seeing someone from the Kashmiri Islamic militant groups.
These groups are seeking the independence of Kashmir. They want India out of Kashmir. Pakistan occupies a small part of Kashmir. And most of these groups are Pakistani or tied to Pakistanis.
So I think that's probably what we're seeing here -- an attempt by these guys to make their point, to radicalize things in India, to create tensions, possibly, between India and Pakistan.
And even though we can't, at this point -- and perhaps never -- say that these people are Al Qaeda -- a number of your guests have said this doesn't bear the typical earmarks of an Al Qaeda operation. It would not surprise me at all to learn that whoever has carried this out is in some close contact with Al Qaeda operatives, who would have a strong interest in stirring up passions in India and in stirring up conflict between India and Pakistan.
For example, if you could do that, that would mean that Indian -- if you got tensions going between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, that means that's Indian forces would ultimately deploy up toward Kashmir. That would draw Pakistani forces away from the tribal areas along the Afghan/Pakistan border, where they are harassing Al Qaeda. And that would all be seen by Kashmiri militants as a good thing.
So that's one of the things going on here.
O'BRIEN: So, John, I guess the point here, that you're trying to make here, is whether it's Al Qaeda or not, it certainly would be in sync with Al Qaeda goals?
MCLAUGHLIN: Very much in sync with Al Qaeda goals. Go back about a year, Al Qaeda actually -- or someone that claimed to be Al Qaeda -- actually sent a videotape to Indian officials in Srinagar, which is up in that Kashmir region, essentially declaring war on India on behalf of Al Qaeda.
So it would be very much in sync with Al Qaeda goals to have militant Islamic groups in India who, as I say, have become closer and closer to Al Qaeda, in the context of this dispute over Kashmir. It would be very much in their interests to have them attack Western interests, Westerners and so forth, in Mumbai.
MCLAUGHLIN: The other thing is, if you think back to the last big...
O'BRIEN: John McLaughlin, I'm very sorry.
I've got to interrupt you.
I apologize. MCLAUGHLIN: Sure.
O'BRIEN: Please stand by, if you would, if you could stay on the line. We would appreciate it. We'll get back to you shortly.
And we're going to join now James Fontanella, who is a correspondent with "Financial Times." He is in Mumbai.
And, James, give us a sense of where you are and what you're seeing right now.
JAMES FONTANELLA KHAN, "FINANCIAL TIMES," MUMBAI, INDIA: Well, at the moment, I'm outside St. George's Hospital. And I've just come from the Oberoi, where there's still two terrorists -- I've been told by a senior official -- there's still two terrorists in the hotel.
The Oberoi, just for your information, is one of the main business -- the most important hotels in the southern part of the city. And the security -- I've also been told that one of the terrorists has been shot and one has been captured. So that means that there were about four inside.
There's still a lot of guests in there. There's businessmen. There's also some diplomats and also a lot of tourists, obviously.
At the moment, as I said, I'm outside St. George's Hospital, where a lot of wounded and, unfortunately, the killed have been -- have been brought here. I know that 10 businessmen -- I've been -- which have been described as white men, they couldn't tell me their nationality -- have been brought here.
And I'm trying to figure out who these people are and so forth.
O'BRIEN: Tell me -- I -- let's go back and talk a little bit about the Oberoi, James.
You say, as best we know, there are terrorists still inside.
Do we have any sense as to how many hostages they might be holding there?
KHAN: Well, it's very unclear, unfortunately. I've been told 40 by one official. But then somebody said like only 10. So I'm not comfortable to give you a precise number. We don't know. That is the only real answer I have.
But, yes, there are hostages in the Oberoi. I saw a few people coming out -- and some from the back, some from the front, with their hands up. So that's what I've seen from -- from outside the Oberoi.
O'BRIEN: OK. So at this point, the authorities have just, what, established a perimeter there?
Do you have any sense of what the strategy might be?
KHAN: Well, I spoke with one senior commissioner, Mr. Bavan (ph). And he told me, look, like this might be longer than any other operation.
We're going to stay here as long as it lasts. And I can't tell you when it's going to end. It's tricky. He told me it's tricky. We can't do much because, you know, these guys are holding people up there. And he -- then he said, I can't give you any numbers. I can't -- I don't know how many people are there. But, you know, this is going to take long. It's not an easy operation.
And is it your sense, James, that the hostages there are, in fact, Westerners?
Do we have any idea on that?
KHAN: I think most of them are Westerners, yes, because, I mean, the Oberoi -- and also the Taj, which is in flames at the moment, as you know, is mainly no. It's frequented by people like who come here for business deals or, you know, who come for luxury holidays. So that mostly are foreigners, yes.
O'BRIEN: So when we say Westerners, let's just spell it out here...
O'BRIEN: Do we know -- are there Americans...
KHAN: ...it's mainly Westerners.
O'BRIEN: Are there Americans in there?
KHAN: Well, I spoke with one American. But he was -- he over -- he managed to escape. And he's of Indian origin. He's called Mr. Prem Levani (ph). And, basically, you know, he told me that he managed to get out from one of the back doors. And he has relatives in Mumbai and he was going to stay with them.
But I know, I mean...
O'BRIEN: All right.
KHAN: Sorry. Yes. There's a lot -- there's a lot of people still trapped in the hotel.
O'BRIEN: OK. So you -- we don't know the numbers. We presume there are Westerners...
KHAN: Unfortunately I don't have the numbers.
KHAN: I mean I've been given all kinds of numbers. So I don't feel comfortable...
O'BRIEN: Yes. No, no, no... KHAN: ...to give you a random one.
O'BRIEN: We'd prefer you not to just give a random one. That's a good idea.
Could you describe for us what this city is like right now?
It's got to -- it's obviously under siege; obviously, a tremendous military presence at this point, police presence.
KHAN: That's correct.
O'BRIEN: And a lot of people have fled the city, as I understand it.
Is that correct?
KHAN: Well, I don't know if people have fled. But what I can tell you, what is extraordinary is the number of army and soldiers which have been deployed. I mean, I saw about 100 soldiers -- 100 soldiers being -- storming into the Oberoi. I have now come outside the St. George's Hospital and there's still loads of people from the army and police. And like they're really trying to respond.
But many people I spoke to said the real problem is that there wasn't enough security. It wasn't -- they weren't prepared for an attack. And if you look, you know, this country, India, has gone through at least six attacks in the last six months. So this is just the latest in a series. And a lot of analysts -- securities analysts who say, you know, Bombay is going to be next. You need to be ready, because there's going to be an attack.
And maybe they weren't as ready...
O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk about that for a minute, James.
O'BRIEN: James, you've spent some time there. Give us your take on the security measures there.
Did you feel they were perhaps a little more lax than they should have been?
KHAN: Well, I'll tell you something. You know, the bombing in Pakistan of the Marriott should have, you know, been a kind of a clear message that big hotels, which host a lot of Western clients and businessmen and diplomats and all kinds of dignitaries, you know, should have been alert. I often go to the Taj, I often go to the Oberoi. The security is not serious, frankly speaking. Anybody can get in. It's very easy. I'm not surprised that this has happened. Then again, it's not easy. You shouldn't blame it exclusively on the hotel security. But, you know, more could have been done. That's my take.
O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting you mention that, when you talk about this coordinated surprise attack using a tremendous amount of force, automatic weapons. We have reports of grenades, there may not be an adequate reasonable level of security that would have thwarted that had kind of attack.
KHAN: That's true. I mean, you can never -- it's very difficult to prevent these things. And you're right also in pointing out there was gunfire and Kalashnikovs. This is really unexpected, it really surprised a lot of people. This was an unusual way of attacking the city. Usually previous terrorist groups like smaller bombs and they don't go for big targets. Now this one is definitely one of the biggest and most ambitious attacks by any terrorist group in a long time.
O'BRIEN: James Fontanella, who is a correspondent with "The Financial Times"; he is at the Oberoi Hotel, where --
KHAN: I'm at the hospital.
O'BRIEN: I'm sorry he's at a hospital. He's at the hospital. Has been at the Oberoi. Thank you for your insights. We appreciate it.
Let's go back to Andrew Stevens who is on the ground there. Andrew, I want to pick up on that thread, on the security issue. You've been there. What was your general take on the level of security in that city? This is a city that has dealt with a lot of terrorism in recent years.
STEVENS: Indeed, it has. It has been used to very violent outbursts. There have been several big bombs in this city over the past few years, Miles. So it's certainly not a city that is unused to this sort of violence.
Although this was a completely different style of attack that we have seen in this city. This coordination, this sophistication, and the targets, as well the targets, five-star hotels, hospitals. They've never been targeted before.
But what is interesting about the security is I have been a guest at the Taj hotel. In fact, the only reason I'm not there right now is because we were a little bit late wrapping up our shoot. We were on our way back to that hotel and we couldn't get through to the hotel.
But what we noticed, all this week, was the security was pretty ordinary, I'd have to say. There was a detector that you walked through and there was a man who did just a cursory glance inside your bag. Now, one of my colleagues, who lives here, she lived in the Taj when she first got here. It was only last week that she said that they took some very sophisticated security apparatus down.
Now, the Taj had put it up because of that blast at the J.W. Marriott in Islamabad, deadly blast there. The response here was to put in sophisticated security into the Taj. And they just took it down just last week. So, obviously, not expecting anything but this opens a whole new chapter in terror attacks in this city.
O'BRIEN: Oh, boy. I got to tell you, Andrew, that just sends a chill up and down my spine. Given the thought that, undoubtedly, this terrorist operation had been casing out the security situation and would certainly have witnessed the relaxing of security at that hotel.
STEVENS: Absolutely. I mean, it's pretty hard to draw any other conclusion that these people knew what they were doing. They knew exactly where to strike, too. I mean, this is a very well heeled part of town, it's hitting the business elites. It's hitting the foreign elite, the international travelers who come here.
And it's also, you know, hitting a train station where 2 million Mumbaikars, as their known, people who live in Mumbai, travel on the trains in this city every day. They hit the central railway station, they hit a hospital. I mean, nothing was left safe really. They will covered a whole range of things. So this was designed to absolutely sow terror into this population. We've just seen the police reaction here, and the headlines in the local media, a city ruled by terrorists, is what the one of the 24 news channels are saying, Miles. So this is -- it's a new paradigm now that we haven't seen, and in Mumbai just hasn't seen anything like this.
O'BRIEN: Takes it to a new level. Andrew Stevens, please stand by. We're getting additional information and we're getting additional tape, as well as live coverage from our sister network in India, IBN. We just heard on IBN, from a witness to the scene, I believe it might have been somebody who was in the Hotel Oberoi. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: All right. My apologies. Obviously having some audio difficulty. We'll try to get that straightened out. We'll get that to you.
Andrew, I assume you're still back with us.
O'BRIEN: I want to help people understand the context of all of this. In the past, the attacks that we've seen in India especially when the focus has been on Kashmir, the attacks have been, frankly, focused on not specifically Western interests. This takes it to a different level. Is there any sense as too what the motivation would be in doing that?
STEVENS: Well, it's very difficult. You get into a speculative ground here, obviously, Miles. But this has hallmarks of operations we've seen before where Westerners have been very much targeted, which obviously has an economic impact. Particularly in a country like India, which really has been so inward looking for so long and it's only the last three or four years, perhaps say 10 years that it really has started to embrace the world and enter the world stage.
And to have attacks aimed at the very commercial heart of this dynamic economy obviously will have some sort of an impact. But Miles, I also just want to tell you quickly because we're just learning, I was telling you before that we knew people who were inside the Taj, who were sitting in there while there was a fire raging above them. And while there was apparently a battles -- or at least, the authorities or military trying to get to the hostage takers. I can now tell you that the three people we know who are in -
O'BRIEN: All right, we lost Andrew Stevens. We'll try to get that repaired. In the meantime, the audio from the witness at the Oberoi Hotel brought to us via IBN, our sister network in India. We fixed that. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No word from inside the hotel. As you know, the area has been cordoned off. The media is allowed to only reach the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) building. After that, it's all cordoned off. The media is waiting here to get some information from inside, because we did see - we did speak to someone who had a narrow escape from these terrorists. And said he had seen 15 terrorists inside, all between age group 20 to 25 years. They were speaking in a language that he couldn't understand. They asked for his passport. So clearly these people are inside. We did see - we did see the army go inside, so clearly all these people are inside.
We have heard some blasts after that, but no news from inside. Again, I just want to show you, this is the rapid action force that has just arrived just about 10 minutes back, a fleet of cars and all of these officers waiting with -- waiting on standby just to be instructed to go inside for any kind of operation, completely, completely everyone caught off guard today in Mumbai.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the busiest stretches, in a way, because a lot of people, particularly in the early hours of the morning, a lot of morning walkers are probably start thinking in terms of coming to the place to start their day. But this entire stretch, Ruhan (ph), from where you are near the NCPA (ph), till almost as far as Gergan Chaparti (ph), this entire stretch you're pointing out has been closed now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Entire stretch has been closed down. Absolutely nobody can come here. Only media makers allowed, allowed ambulances, special task force, the rapid action force. Yes, people are asking when will this get over. Only when the army comes out and only when the army gives an all-clear and confirms there are no terrorists inside, or after gunning them down, that's when this area will be slightly free.
But, of course, there will be a lot of security here tomorrow as we heard (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said that tomorrow also people should avoid going to such places in case they don't have any work. They should avoid going to all these places that were attacked today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already a decision has been made -
O'BRIEN: That came in from IBN, our sister network in India, just a little while ago adding a little dimension to the story there.
Reports from the Associated Press, right now, that four suspects in this concerted, broad-scale, coordinated attack have been killed. Nine suspects in custody. Again, we have reports of upwards of 78 people killed. Upwards of 200 injured in this attack, which has really brought this city to its knees.
Terrorists, it can be accurately said, are controlling the city at this point as the authorities try to get the upper hand, try to cordon off the situation, try to contain it. But we have multiple hostage situations under way involving Westerners. We believe American citizens perhaps British citizens, although that's very sketchy at this point. We do know that the terrorists were seeking out Westerners, Americans in particular.
And on that ominous note, let's go now to Chicago where we have our Ed Henry who's been covering the president-elect, Barack Obama, as he prepares to take office. And we have a statement from the Obama - uh, government in waiting, I guess you'd call it. Ed, go ahead.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Miles. We can now report that in fact, President-Elect Barack Obama is getting briefed on the situation. We're told by an aide that he is following the situation closely. He's been getting regular updates early this evening, here in Chicago, from his staff about the situation. You mentioned a statement has just come out in the last couple of moments. It comes from the chief national security spokesperson for the Obama transition team, that's Brooke Anderson.
She says, quote, "President-Elect Barack Obama strongly condemns today's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. And his thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and the people of India. These coordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat to terrorism. The United States must continue to strengthen our partnerships with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorists networks. We stand with the people of India, whose democracy will prove far more resilient than the hateful ideology that led to these attacks."
That a statement from the chief national security spokesperson from the Obama transition team, that's Brooke Anderson. We're also told, again, that Barack Obama himself has been getting updates from his staff.
Kathleen Koch already reporting the current President George W. Bush getting updates at Camp David, as well. We're obviously, as we've been reporting about the financial crisis in this odd situation right now, during this transition team where as you noted, you have a president of the United States and you have a government-in-waiting here in Chicago.
It's fascinating, as well, to see these horrific images play out over the first three days of this week. It's been all about economic security, all about the financial crisis for President-Elect Obama. The situation in India, obviously, now a fresh reminder about the national security challenges that he will be facing as he takes office. And as you know, early next week, we're expecting in fact, that Barack Obama, after unveiling his financial security team this week, will be unveiling his national security team next week, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. Well, they've got a new task on the front burner there. Ed Henry, thank you very much.
Let's -- we've resumed contact with Andrew Stevens as we look once again at that horrifying picture of a policeman that will opens fire on a crowd, obviously, the work of the terrorists there, in Mumbai, in this city that is just under siege.
Andrew, what more can you tell us from the scene there?
STEVENS: Miles it, just before our communications dropped out, I wanted to tell that you we've been discussing these people we know who are actually in the Taj. They've been in the Taj during this whole event, this siege, if you like. They were told, if you remember to close the doors, turn off the lights and sit on the bed and wait for help. Well, they have taken matters into their own hands. They have made a decision and they have gotten out of that hotel. They are safe and sound. They are outside.
And the reason they said they decided to make that decision, it was just getting -- hearing too many sort of indications that there was a battle going on inside. There was smoke starting to fill the hotel. So they decided they got out of there. And they're safe and sound. So that's the good news.
The bad news is though that at this stage, nothing has changed as far as the information we are getting on the hostage -- overall hostage situation. In not one, but two hotels, two five-star hotels, one the Taj, I just spoke about. We don't know how many people there, there are reports that maybe 15 hostages, maybe up to half of those could be foreign hostages. Again, we don't know. But there are reports that the gunmen were going through the guests that were staying at the hotel, demanding to see passports looking for British and U.S. passports.
It's the story is a hostage situation also at the Oberoi Hotel, which is just up the road. Again, Miles, I can't bring you any more details. We know there's a hostage situation. We're not aware how, or if, it's been resolved. We have been told and there have been reports there was a large explosion coming from inside the hotel just after the military went in.
We're also getting reports there is some sort of sporadic shooting, or firing on streets around this area in south Mumbai. Obviously, there are a lot of very, very scared people, scared residents here at the moment. This has been an unprecedented attack on targets, which most people who live in Mumbai would thought would have never been targets for attack.
People are obviously very, very spooked by what's going on. There's reports of gunfire in the streets. Again, this is random and isolated. We can't give you anymore than that. But this just goes into the overall situation, the incredible tensions, the fear and the what we saw earlier, the panic in the city, Miles.
O'BRIEN: Andrew, let's talk a little bit, you know, I sort of feel like we're looking at this with blinders on. We have a couple glimpses of what is a broad, frontal attack on a city, as many as nine locations. What do we know about what is going on in the northern part of the city? I know one hotel in particular, I believe, it was a Marriott, has been targeted there. What do we know about what is going on there?
STEVENS: I just need to correct you on that because that's what we were hearing first off, the J.W. Marriott was a target in the north of the city, which is about an hour or so from here. It was not the Marriott, it was the Ramada Hotel, which is very close. Obviously, the Ramada Hotel is also a very well-known Western international brand.
What I can - well, basically, the information is very thin on the ground there. And you've got to think, I mean, obviously there is a big media industry here at the moment, Miles. Even they are being hugely stretched by this crisis. There are just so many reports coming from so many areas, and particularly down south. They are focusing down in where I am in south Mumbai. I can't bring you up to date.
All we know, at this stage, that police are reporting there was firing in the Ramada. As soon as can we can get some details on that, we will. You'll notice just by my lack of communications with you, sometimes my communications with you drop out. That is a very common thing in Mumbai. On the mobile phone, even land lines, not necessarily completely reliable. And certainly mobile phones, it is not uncommon to lose your mobile it, it drops out, drops out, drops out. So it is actually quite hard to get information here at the best of times, let alone when we have this sort of crisis still unfolding.
O'BRIEN: All right. I'll tell you what, Andrew, it would help me, because now I'm a little bit confused. Could you give us the lay of the land, here, as best we know it, as to where these targets are? We're looking at a map. I know you can't see it. But we're looking at the southern part of Mumbai. There we have the Taj Hotel, the Hotel Oberoi, the railway station. What else is in the southern part of the city that we need to be concerned about?
STEVENS: OK. We'll, basically there are commercial, there are big commercial buildings around some of the big Indian companies have their headquarters in this area. General Electric used to be in this area. I haven't - I'm not sure - I haven't been down that street to see if they're still there. Last time I was here, they were there.
This is the commercial heart, if you like. This is a very well heeled part of Mumbai. It's called South Mumbai. So around the Taj is probably the key landmark you need to be aware of, if you're looking at the map of Mumbai, because it is such a well-known historic building. It is one of -- if not, the landmark building here in Mumbai. If that's not it, right next to it is an edifice called the Gateway to India, which is also featured on virtually every postcard you could buy here in Mumbai. Those two areas are really the heart of this historic part, this very affluent part, and this very commercial part of South Mumbai. The Ramada hotel is in North Mumbai. Now, traveling by car, it would take you about an hour or so. Mumbai is a very spread out city, Miles. You've got to sort of, I'm sure you've been here yourself many times. But there are -- it used to be originally seven islands. And it sort of spread pretty much at random. It's now a city of 19 million people. So it really doesn't have a sort of firm central business district, if you like. It has a whole lot of different sort of satellites which have all merged into one. South Mumbai, though, where these attacks have been concentrated would certainly be the wealthiest part, the most commercial part of the city. I hope that explains it a little bit.
O'BRIEN: Yes, that helped .
STEVENS: And the importance of the various parts.
O'BRIEN: That helped immensely. Thank you, Andrew Stevens. Stay close to us, and we will back with you, obviously, as the developments warrant.
In the meantime, all kinds of consultation between what is going on, on the ground there and Washington. Zain Verjee has been watching that for us - Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Miles.
The State Department, for anyone who has friends or family there, that is panicking and doesn't know who to call, or what to do, the State Department has established a consular call center for anyone that is worried about the situation on the ground, and what is unfolding. The phone number you need to call is: 1-888-407-4747. 1- 888-407-4747. That number shared with us from the State Department.
They have set up this operation center to deal with this crisis situation there on the ground and to really handle calls from anyone in this country that has friends or family or relatives, or anyone that they need to get in touch with. We also understand, too, from a State Department official that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also been briefed on the situation. She knows what is going on. She has been monitoring the situation carefully, and she has been reaching out, too, to officials in the U.S. embassy, in New Delhi, as well as the consulate in Mumbai.
She is also going to be talking, Miles, to Indian officials there as the situation is so fluid. It is really just a question of getting a hold of them at this point. State Department officials are also telling us that Rice has just spoken to President Bush and briefed him on the conversations she has been having.
O'BRIEN: Zain Verjee watching things for us as the State Department moves into action. That phone number, at the bottom of your screen. If you have some concerns about a loved one in that part of the world, we encourage you to call. If you don't, please don't. Don't clog up the line unnecessarily. We will take a break and then continue our coverage of this dynamic situation in Mumbai. Hostage-taking still underway; 78 people dead, at least, and several hundred injured. A city that is absolutely brought to its knees by terror. Stay with us for more in THE SITUATION ROOM.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our continuing breaking news coverage of a city under siege, Mumbai is the target of terror. Scores of people dead, hundreds of people injured, and a group claiming association with Islamic radicals taking responsibility for this horrible synchronized attack; which still continues with reports of hostages in some hotels, frequented by Westerners. Hostages that might be American, might be British. All of this is remains very sketchy, unfolding as we speak.
Among the people with CNN on the ground there in Mumbai is our Mallika Kapur who has further in formation for us about what is going on in Mumbai and specifically about some - a release of some hostages, potentially, from one of the hotels -- Mallika, what can you tell us?
MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that some people have been able to leave the hotels. We don't know specifically whether these people were indeed, these 10 people who were held hostage by the gunmen. But within the last hour we have seen pictures up and we have heard of friends and people we know who have been able to leave the Taj Hotel. They, of course, are saying that the situation there is very tense, but they have managed to escape, leave from the back exit.
The situation both at the Taj Hotel and also the Oberoi Hotel, which are close to each other, still a very much a live situation there, and gunmen are hold up in those two buildings. Situation very tense. We are seeing a fire, plumes of smoke coming out of the Taj Hotel, which is very symbolic and really a sign that these gunman have brought Mumbai to a halt tonight. They've really hit at the heart of Mumbai, because the Taj Mahal Hotel is really one of the most famous landmarks in the city.
O'BRIEN: Mallika, tell us - we have been talking quite a bit about the level of concern and security in the city of Mumbai leading up to this. And Andrew Stevens was reporting just a few moments ago, that only a week ago - only a week ago, security was relaxed at some of these locations. I am curious if you have seen evidence that jived with that.
KAPUR: Absolutely. In fact, when I moved to Mumbai not that long ago, about two months ago, security at the Taj was very, very tight indeed. There was sniffer dogs around the building. In fact, the Taj has a very grand driveway where cars can come in and drop you off at the main entrance, but that driveway had been sealed off. It was barricaded. There were heavy barricades all around. You had to go through two metal detectors to get in. Your bags were searched, children's bags were searched. There was extremely tight security at the Taj Hotel, itself. And this was following an attack at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan, about three months ago. And, yes, it was just a few days ago that security at the Taj was relaxed. Of course, people not having a clue that this would follow the moment that they did that.
O'BRIEN: Well, it is just haunting to hear that. Do you know what led the authorities to suddenly a week ago relax security there?
KAPUR: I don't know specifically what led them to do that, but they probably felt they would have this intense and tight security for several weeks, and there had been no untoward incident reported. We don't know specifically - we haven't heard from them about they relaxed security. There still is security, and you still do have to go through a metal detector to get inside, but security is definitely much lighter than it was say, just a week, or 10 days ago.
O'BRIEN: Well, the way you describe it, it would have been a lot harder to pull off what we have seen occur just in the last recent hours had that security perimeter remained in effect. I am just curious your thoughts, Mallika, on Westerners being singled out this time. It is a new dimension to terror in India, isn't it?
KAPUR: It is a new dimension, definitely, it is. Of course, we still have not been able to confirm the nationalities of the people who are being held hostage. We do know that people are held hostage and we are hearing reports that the people who have been held hostage are foreigners. We're hearing reports that gunmen came in and asked people with UK and U.S. passports to be singled out and they were taken away and held hostage. But we still haven't been able to confirm that. If that is true, as you point out, yes, that is a new aspect. Because we have seen terror attacks in India before, but never have they specifically targeted people of a certain nationality.
O'BRIEN: It has to be just chilling for this change in tactic, to be witnessing that, especially as somebody who lives there.
KAPUR: It is. It is absolutely chilling to hear about what has happen, to see developments tonight. Everyone in Mumbai, the residents there, are extremely nervous. It is now 4:30 in the morning and I can tell you that the city has not slept at night. Residents have been calling each other. They are checking in with each other. Everyone somehow knows someone of another or some friend who has been caught up in the attacks and who is being held up somewhere. I personally have friends who have been held up at restaurants all night. I got --
O'BRIEN: Mallika Kapur, I'm sorry.
O'BRIEN: Mallika, we have to cut you off. My apologies, because we will have to move on. But please stay close. We'll be back with you as this story unfolds.