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A commando getting ready for a seige on Nariman house where armed gunmen are holding a Hassidic Jewish Rabbi and his wife hostage in Mumbai on Friday. (Michael Rubenstein for The New York Times)

Indian forces battle pockets of militants

MUMBAI, India: The conflict in the stricken Indian city of Mumbai narrowed to a final running battle between commandos and at least one attacker in a luxury hotel, the Taj, but the murderous assault on the country's financial capital continued to shake the nation and raised perilous tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

As the crisis in Mumbai entered its third day, Indian commandos fought running battles with militants in a luxury hotel in the city on Friday, still struggling to end the murderous assault on India's financial capital that has shaken the nation and raised perilous tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

The Indian security forces routed the attackers from another hotel, the Oberoi, and a Jewish community center in the city, ending the conflicts there.

As a measure of the possible disturbing implications of the attacks for regional relations, the chief of Pakistan's powerful intelligence organization, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was due to make an extraordinary visit to India to assist in the investigations and calm tensions between the two countries, as the Indian government explicitly blamed "elements with links to Pakistan" and the full scale and the death toll from the attacks became clearer.

More than 150 people were confirmed killed in the attacks on the stricken city, as more bodies were brought out from the hotels and the death toll continued to rise. Among the dead, were two Americans, a 58-year-old man and his 13-year-old daughter, members of a spiritual community visiting from Virginia. A rabbi from Brooklyn, New York, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka, were also among five hostages who died at a Jewish community center in the city, Nariman House.

The terrorists had executed the hostages — most of whom were believed to be Israeli citizens — as Indian commando units stormed the attackers inside the building, ending the stand-off there, the Indian military said, adding that two attackers had also been killed.

They were among a total of at least 22 foreigners, who died during the attacks, the Indian authorities said, according to The Associated Press.

Shortly before night settled over the stricken city, the police said the death toll had reached 143 with the discovery of 24 bodies in the luxury Oberoi hotel, where the police had finally taken control and many guests were set free on Friday.

But the army's operation at a second luxury hotel, the Taj, was only entering its "final phase," according to the Indian military, with commandos battling one terrorist left inside who the army said was moving between two floors of the hotel, including an area that had been a dance floor for weddings and other parties. The army said two other militants had been killed overnight in the Taj. Later, commandos were seen rushing through the front door of the hotel, in what appeared to be another major assault to dislodge the militants.

Indian commandos involved in the fighting in the hotels said the attackers were well-trained and "remorseless," carrying a backpack packed with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and they seemed to know the hotel layout better than the security forces, indicating a high degree of preparation and sophistication.

With the situation seeming to come gradually under the authorities' control, attention was shifting to the identities of the attackers, several of whom were reported to be seized during the onslaught. The Indian media focused on the possible involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a guerrilla group run by Pakistani intelligence in the conflict with India in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Amid an atmosphere of recrimination between political parties within the country, a senior Hindu nationalist leader, L.K. Advani, said the Indian security services had become "preoccupied" with Hindu terrorists and missed threats from Islamists. The Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said early evidence explicitly pointed to Pakistan's involvement. "Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved," Mukherjee told reporters in New Delhi.

An Indian official said one assailant had been captured alive and was a Pakistani citizen. The assertion, by R.R. Patil, the home affairs minister of Maharashtra State, where Mumbai is located, could further increase tension between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states which have fought wars in the past.

In London, officials said they were unable to confirm reports in a British newspaper that some of the attackers held British passports, which are relatively common among people with ties to former British colonies, but other officials said it was unlikely.

While the situation was gradually being brought under control, there were still pockets of resistance on Friday. In the Oberoi, some guests were still barricaded in their rooms as security forces reasserted control of the hotel, and they were watching events outside on television news channels. But police and military officers did not explain why the operation to flush out a handful of assailants in the Taj hotel and the Jewish community center had taken so long.

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