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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Indian forces end attacks

Former Loyola professor, daughter among terrorists' victims
From Sun staff and news services

November 29, 2008

MUMBAI, India

The coordinated terrorist attacks in India's financial capital ended today, with a former Loyola College professor and his daughter among the at least 195 people killed.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 400-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn as Indian forces ended the siege in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.

"The Taj operation is over. The last two terrorists holed up there have been killed," Mumbai Police Chief Hasan Ghafoor told the Associated Press. Earlier, two suspected terrorists were killed and more than 140 hostages freed at the Oberoi, the other hotel that was targeted. Officials said the death toll rose to 195 as more bodies were discovered after commandos ended the siege on a luxury hotel.

Alan Scherr, 58, a former photography teacher at Loyola, and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, members of a spiritual community visiting from Faber, Va., were among at least 15 foreigners, including five Americans, who died during the attacks, Indian authorities said. Scherr and his daughter were killed while they were dining with friends at the Oberoi hotel's restaurant.

The two Americans were in Mumbai on a meditation retreat along with more than 20 other followers of the spiritual Synchronicity movement and its guru, Charles Cannon.

Before moving to Synchronicity's Central Virginia ashram with his wife, Kia, in the mid-1990s, Scherr lived in Silver Spring, according to property records. For six years he taught photography at Loyola's campus in North Baltimore, a college official said.

A brief biography attached to a New Age Web site article written by Scherr says he also taught art at the University of Maryland, but officials there could not confirm that yesterday.

"Alan committed most of his adult life to meditation, spirituality and conscious living," officials with the Synchronicity Foundation, which runs the ashram, said in a statement. "He was a passionate Vedic astrologer and meditation teacher."

Two other Americans and two Canadians on the retreat were injured, though most of the other members were barricaded in their hotel rooms after the shooting began and were rescued by authorities, said Bobbie Garvey, the ashram's managing director.

Kia Scherr did not travel to India; yesterday, hundreds of well-wishers from across the globe left messages of support for her on a tribute Web site, alanandnaomi.com.

Garvey said Naomi wanted to travel to India to learn about the ashram's roots, and she planned to write about her experiences as part of her application to a boarding school.

Also among those confirmed dead yesterday were six hostages, most of them believed to be Jews. Their bodies were removed from a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish outreach complex in the city, known as Nariman House, after Indian commando units stormed the attackers inside the building and ended the standoff there.

The terrorists had executed the hostages during the commando raid, the military said, adding that two attackers had also been killed. A rabbi from Brooklyn, N.Y., Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka, were among the dead.

Holtzberg's sister and brother-in-law, who live in Park Heights, traveled this week to be with relatives in Israel, where Rivka was from, according to Chabad rabbis in Baltimore.

The couple's toddler son, Moshe Holtzberg, was smuggled out of the center by an employee and is now with his grandparents.

In the most remarkable of the counterstrikes yesterday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch center as snipers laid down cover fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men had been found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said. "All in all, it was a difficult spectacle," he said.

Local media reports, quoting top military officials, said two gunmen were found dead in the building.

Chabad Lubavitch is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that runs outreach centers in far-flung areas of the globe. The center in Mumbai served as a synagogue and cultural center for crowds of Israeli tourists and the small local Jewish community, the group said.

News of the Holtzbergs' deaths reverberated yesterday throughout Baltimore's ultra-Orthodox community, and local rabbis said they were struggling to find an inspirational message for this morning's Shabbat services.

"I really haven't decided what I'm going to say," said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Chabad's regional director in Maryland. "I do want to emphasize that we have been taught and trained that when tragedies happen we have to find the inner resources not just to overcome, but to begin again."

Kaplan said the Chabad outreach movement would return to Mumbai and send new shluchim, or representatives, there. "We will not let the evil overcome us," Kaplan said.

The Taj Mahal hotel was racked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions yesterday, even though authorities had said earlier that they had cleared it of gunmen.

Indian forces kept up a counterattack with grenades and gunfire on what authorities believed were one or two militants holed up in the ballroom. An hour after dawn, as the two sides traded gunfire, flames erupted and smoke billowed from several windows on the building's ground floor. Officials later declared the standoff over.

Meanwhile, authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

President George W. Bush said the U.S. was working with India and other nations to uncover who was responsible. An FBI team was heading to India to help with the investigation, U.S. officials said.

India's foreign minister said clues appeared to point to Pakistan.

"According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks," Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.

Indian Home Minister Jaiprakash Jaiswal said a captured gunman had been identified as a Pakistani. Patil, the Maharashtra state official, said: "It is very clear that the terrorists are from Pakistan. We have enough evidence that they are from Pakistan."

Earlier yesterday, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country.

Hoping to head off a crisis between the two nuclear-armed nations, officials in Islamabad agreed to send Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, to India to help investigate the attacks.

Baltimore Sun reporter Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

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