Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg
Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka HoltzbergIsrael News Photo: (courtesy of Chabad)

After more than 40 hours and a day-long siege by Indian commandos against Islamist terrorists holding nine Jews hostage in the Mumbai Chabad House, all were found murdered, including the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Voice of Israel government radio reported Saturday evening that at least seven of the victims are Israelis. A forensic pathology expert is being sent from Israel to assist in the identification of three of the bodies.

Ben-Tzion Korman

(courtesy of npv.co.il)

Foreign Ministry sources told Israel National News just minutes before the start of the Sabbath in Israel that among the victims were two women who had been trapped on the top floor with the Holtzbergs. On Saturday night, the names of Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum of Jerusalem, son of the Volover Rebbe of Boro Park and son-in-law of the head of the Toldos Avraham Yitzhak Chassidic sect, and his co-worker Ben Tzion Korman of Bat Yam, were added to the list. 

One of the two women who was killed, a Mexican national, had not yet been identified for publication, pending notification of next-of-kin. The other victim was identified as Yocheved Orpaz, an Israeli woman in her sixties. The identities of two other Israeli victims were also being withheld pending notification to their families, which had been impossible due to the Sabbath.

The Chabad House was one of 10 sites that were struck by some 25 terrorists who apparently infiltrated into Mumbai by sea and then fanned out through the city. By Saturday, nine of out 10 of the targets were finally free of terrorists, hostages and most of the victims; however, some 60 hours after the mass-casualty attack began, the city's largest and most luxurious hotel, the Taj Mahal, was still not clear, and operations by Indian National Security Guards (NSG) continued into the night.

Indian television had reported jubilantly just after sunset Friday in Mumbai that the siege of the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai was over, and that all the terrorists were killed -- but suddenly, in a dramatic reversal, announced that authorities ordered the wildly cheering crowd to move back: it wasn't really over after all. 

Government commandos had begun to exit the badly damaged building smiling broadly and flashing the "thumbs up" sign at the applauding crowd in the street, with one commander telling the media that the fierce fire fight was finished, with three terrorists dead.  A loud explosion, probably from a grenade or rocket launcher, had been heard moments earlier on the top floor of the five-story building, which was badly damaged.

The situation was termed "utter chaos" by journalists, as darkness combined with crowds and confusion to create a mess for security forces who were trying to figure out whether there were terrorists left in the building, and if so, where they were and how to either capture or kill them.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed minutes before Sabbath began in Israel that two Israeli hostages had been freed, after spending more than 30 hours holed up in the Oberoi-Trident Hotel. The two businessmen, who were identified only by their last names, Weingarten and Zamir, were rescued Friday morning at approximately 7:30 a.m. Israel time.

According to Ministry spokesman Andy David, neither was injured and both were in good condition following their harrowing ordeal. "I can confirm that they're out, they're free... they made contact with our Consulate, our people saw them and they're okay," he told Israel National News, adding that both planned to return to Israel but that a timeline had not been set.

The Foreign Ministry firmly denied the numerous and repeated reports by Indian media that Jewish hostages had been rescued from the Chabad House.

"The reports are simply untrue," said David. "No one has been freed there, and no one has come out. We don't know what the situation is inside. There is no confirmation of the number of people there either," he emphasized.

"There are Israelis who stop in there at Chabad all the time, who can visit, get a meal, join a prayer... we have no way to know many people were there," he said. "There is a lot of battlefield fog, you know, we get a lot of reports, 'It's over,' then, 'It's not over,' then, 'It's over,' again."

By 6:00 p.m Saturday night, it was still not clear whether all missing Israelis in Mumbai had been accounted for.

Indian army sources claimed that the terrorists had received commando training from the Pakistan Army and had been provided with boats and logistical support by the Mumbai underworld, according to India's IBN Live television news.