Mumbai: At least 101 people, including a foreign tourist and a top counter-terror officer, were killed and about 287 injured as terrorists struck in the heart of Mumbai in planned and synchronized attacks.
Terrorists held people hostage in two five-star hotels, the Taj Intercontinental and Trident (formerly Oberoi) facing the waterfront across the Arabian Sea, and the Madam Cama Hostel.
Three top police officials, including Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, were among the nine policemen killed in gunfights with the terrorists, police confirmed.
Among terror targets was the city's busiest railway station, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). "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.
Deshmukh confirmed early Thursday morning that terrorists had struck at 10 places.
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 287 injured.
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 city.
Many of the locations targeted, mostly in upscale south Mumbai, were favourite destinations of foreign tourists, like the Leopold Restaurant in Colaba. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers.
"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.
Police officials said terrorists opened fire at police and paramilitary forces outside the Hotel Taj Intercontinental in south Mumbai between 2215 hrs IST and 2230 hrs IST.
The police officials said firing was on near the five-star hotel where around 2,000 guests and staff were stranded. Screams could be heard and enormous clouds of black smoke rose from the century-old hotel. Fire-fighters were spraying water at the blaze.
The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans, witnesses said.
Several European lawmakers were among people who barricaded themselves inside the Taj. "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 European Union-India summit.
As he turned to get away, "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.
Minutes later, bullets were fired near the Hotel Trident (Oberoi) - 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.
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. Schools and colleges have been cancelled for Thursday.
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.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the terror attack and assured all help to the state government.
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 2007 that killed 187 people.
Media reports said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets.
(With inputs from IANS and The Associated Press.)