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Mumbai takes a deep breath after the crisis

The bustling economic center is proud of its ability to bounce back. This time, though, the scars are deep.

November 30, 2008|Mark Magnier | Magnier is a Times staff writer.
  • Indian National Security Guard troops take positions outside the Taj hotel as firing continues between the terrorists and security personnel.   Mumbai's police chief later said two remaining terrorists in the hotel have been killed.
Indian National Security Guard troops take positions outside the Taj hotel… (Harish Tyagi / EPA )

MUMBAI, INDIA — In normal times, money drives Mumbai. And even as police detonated grenades they removed Saturday from the last redoubt of a terrorist band, residents fretted about the effects of three days of violence on the seething energy that unites rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim in India's commercial capital.

By targeting two luxury hotels, a restaurant popular with tourists and a Jewish center, the attackers appeared intent on destroying Mumbai's economic lifeblood, driving away foreign investors and tourists, analysts said.

With police saying they had killed the last of the attackers in the vast reaches of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel early Saturday, Mumbai residents reached for their ginger tea and morning bread with a measure of relief. Their chaotic city, home of India's film industry, known as Bollywood, and some of the world's most expensive real estate, is proud of its ability to bounce back. When bombers attacked its trains in 2006, killing about 200 people, rail service resumed in four hours and the stock market rose 3% the next day.

But this time, it could take a while, residents said.

Many may think twice about going to crowded markets, cinemas and railway stations.

At the 150-year-old Crawford Market, Mumbai's largest, long, thin carts wended their way among shoppers, sugar cane juice vendors and potholes.

"Big, big sale!" yelled one merchant.

"Seventy rupees anything we have!" yelled another.

After a two-day shutdown, people were drifting back to the market, but fewer than normal.

"They just wanted to hurt India's economy," said Badshah Sheif, a merchant selling duct tape in a stall smaller than a phone booth. "But we'll work together and get business moving again soon."

Official estimates of the death toll from the attacks climbed to 195 on Saturday, including 20 soldiers and police officers. Eighteen foreigners were reported to be among the dead. They included six with U.S. citizenship: three at the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center, a man and his daughter on a spiritual pilgrimage, and one person who has not been identified.

A top aide said India's home minister, Shivraj Patil, who is in charge of much of the country's internal security services, sent his resignation to the prime minister to take responsibility for the attacks, according to the Associated Press.

A team of FBI agents was on the way to Mumbai.

"As the people of the world's largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of the world's oldest democracy to stand by their side," President Bush said.

A few miles from the Crawford Market, police were going through the Taj hotel, looking for booby traps and removing bodies. Bedsheets that desperate hostages used to escape still were hanging from window frames.

Fire and police officials took explosives left by the attackers to the seaside promenade to be detonated. Massive blasts echoed off the 103-year-old, 540-room building, and sent flocks of startled pigeons skyward.

Jay Makhijani watched as police carefully removed a box from the hotel and detonated the leftover grenades. He runs high-end jewelry shops in the Taj and the Oberoi, the other hotel that was attacked.

He hadn't been to either since Wednesday, and said he was worried about the damage.

An optimist by nature, however, the Mumbai native said he believed the city and his stores would bounce back soon.

"If the restaurant was open in the Oberoi tonight, I'd go there for dinner," Makhijani said. "That's how badly I want things to return to normal."

It might take longer to restore trust between India's Hindu majority and Muslim minority. Officials have suggested that Islamic militant groups based in rival Pakistan who were responsible for previous attacks in India were responsible for this one.

Officials said the only attacker captured was Pakistani, and news reports said he had confessed to being a member of one of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba. That could not be confirmed.

Pakistani officials said India had provided no proof to them, but they condemned the attack and said they would investigate.

"This will make people fearful and distrustful of Muslims," said Naved Akhtar Mirza, a Muslim in Mumbai who runs a restaurant beside a blue mosque near the Crawford Market. "They're going to say all Muslims do this sort of thing. I have many Hindu friends, but the politicians use these tragedies to stir up trouble."

He's not alone in his concern. Almost immediately after the siege ended, Teesta Setalvad started mapping out plans to help prevent hate and mistrust from dividing the city. The social activist and co-editor of the newsletter Communalism Combat has been fighting to reverse divisive politics for two decades.

"I really hope I'm wrong, but when you have an incident like this linked to Pakistan, there are always forces that apply it back to Muslims in India," she said.

Added S.A. Sheif, a toy seller, "We are all Indians. These terrorists have no religion, since no religion teaches you to kill."

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