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Commandos Mop Up Last Of Mumbai Militants

Indian soldiers hold a position during a gunbattle at the Taj Mahal Hotel

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian commandos have ended a three-day rampage by Islamist gunmen in Mumbai, killing the last of the militants after nearly 200 people died in attacks that struck at bastions of the Indian financial capital's elite.

Public anger, mostly aimed at neighboring Pakistan, began to mount after elite Black Cat commandos killed four militants in a running gun battle through a maze of corridors, rooms, and halls in Mumbai's best-known hotel, the Taj Mahal.

The commandos targeted the last of 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai's top two luxury hotels, its biggest railway station, and several other landmarks with grenades and assault rifles in a series of attacks that began on the night of November 26.

Hundreds of people, many of them Westerners, were trapped or taken hostage. Twenty-two of those killed were foreigners.

Commandos and rescue personnel were still cleaning up the wreckage near the still-smoldering Taj Mahal hotel when about 50 protesters began shouting anti-Pakistan slogans.

"Our soldiers came and Pakistan ran away," they shouted, pumping their fists skyward. One waved an Indian flag.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has hinted that nuclear rival Pakistan may have been involved, and evidence mounted the attackers may have hatched their plan there and come to Mumbai by sea.

Pakistan Offers Help

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, battling Islamic radicals in his own nation, told Indian television he would cooperate in the investigation.

"If any evidence comes of any individual or group in any part of my country, I shall take the swiftest of action in the light of evidence and in front of the world," he told CNN-IBN television.

Many guests were trapped in their rooms in the Taj while the battle raged around them. They emerged to harrowing scenes. "The blood, everywhere the blood," an American woman called Patricia told the NDTV news channel, choking back tears. "And when we came down to the lobby, all the hundreds and hundreds of policemen were standing there looking so fried and so sad."

The gunmen had set parts of the 105-year-old hotel ablaze as they evaded scores of India's best-trained commandos. They left bodies in their wake, some with grenades stuffed into the mouths or concealed underneath.

Black streaks of soot stained the gray bricks, white balconies and red-tiled roofs of the hotel's facade. The ground floor was gutted, the wood-paneled walls blackened and cracked by explosions and fire.

Nine of the gunmen were killed, a tenth caught alive. He told interrogators they wanted to go down in history for enacting an Indian version of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Times Now TV said, quoting an unidentified defense ministry official.

They were also inspired by the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September, it said.

Last Battleground

The Taj Mahal was the last battleground after three days of intense fighting in various parts of the city of 18 million.

Several newspapers said some of the militants had checked into the Taj hotel days or weeks before the attacks, while the Times of India said they had rented an apartment in the city a few months ago pretending to be students.

On November 28, an army general said the gunmen appeared to be very familiar with the hotel's layout and were well trained. "At times we found them matching us in combat and movement," one commando told the “Hindustan Times.” "They were either army regulars or have done a long stint of commando training."

Mumbai disaster authorities said at least 195 people had been killed and 295 wounded, the death toll rising as bodies were collected from the Taj and nearby Trident-Oberoi hotels, scene of another siege that ended on November 27.

The attacks struck at the heart of Mumbai, the engine room of an economic boom that has made India a favorite emerging market.

It is also home to the Bollywood film industry, the epitome of glamor in a country blighted by poverty.

The arrested man has confessed to being a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which has long fought Indian forces in disputed Kashmir and was blamed for an attack on India's parliament in December 2001, newspapers said.

Authorities said 22 foreigners were among the dead, including three Germans, three Israelis, one American, one Australian, a Briton, two Canadians, an Italian, a Japanese, a Singaporean, a Mauritian, a Thai, and a Chinese national. Five were unidentified, they said.

However, the U.S. State Department has said five Americans were killed, while two French nationals are also known to have died.

India denied reports that some of the attackers were British.