Terrorists trigger 2 more blasts Taj hotel; standoff continues

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Mumbai, Nov 27 (UNI) Terrorists laying siege to two five-star hotels in South Mumbai triggered blasts and sprayed bullets today to ward off stiff counter measures by commandos of the combined forces as the stand-off continued more than 19 hours after a wave of terror attacks hit the commercial capital.

The violence, which was sporadic till afternoon, intensified in the evening with 20 minutes of fierce battle during which the terrorists sprayed bullets and hurled hand grenades inside the heritage Taj Mahal hotel and set the rear side of the fifth floor on fire.

As many as 101 people, including top police officers, were killed and over 200 injured in the terrorist strikes since last night.

Though the number of terrorists could not be ascertained, at least seven of them were seen engaged in the running battle.

Two more blasts ripped through the old wing of the century-old Taj Mahal Hotel.

The Army, which has taken full control of the operations and is trying to flush out the terrorists, said there were no hostages in the Taj, where all the guests had locked themselves in their rooms.

They are at present undertaking an aerial survey of the hotel in a bid to enter the building without harming any of the patrons, who are locked in their rooms. The terrorists have not taken any of them hostage.

Lt Col R K Hooda told reporters that the terrorists were armed with sophisticated weapons including AK-47 and AK-56 rifles and high intensity explosives.

''Due to the people inside the hotel, we have to move with extreme precaution and at the moment, I can not put a timeframe on when this stand-off will end,'' he said.

Meanwhile, in the nearby Hotel Trident, the gunfight between the terrorists and security personnel continued. The terrorists have held around 40 people hostage since last night.

The security forces have so far been able to kill four terrorists, two at the Hotel Taj Mahal and two in Girgaum Chowpatty, and injured another.

Two aircraft and two high speed motorcrafts of the Coast Guard are on a 'hot pursuit' of the Vietnamese vessel 'MV Alpha', which allegedly brought a group of terrorists to Mumbai last evening.

According to a senior official of the Coast Guard, two Dornier aircraft and two motorcrafts had been sent from Mumbai to chase the 'M V Alpha'.

''The ship has been identified and is being followed,'' he remarked.

Sources said security along the west coast, from Mumbai to Gujarat, has been beefed up and patrolling along the shores has been intensified.

''The Navy's help has not yet been sought but if need be, their services would be taken,'' they added.

UNI ST/GS/ZC VK/SSS OBB RR KP1831

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