Mumbai’s Chabad House

JERUSALEM – A rabbi killed in last week’s coordinated terrorist raids in India was so fearful his Jewish outreach center would be attacked he forbade media photographers from snapping pictures inside the building, believing terrorists were seeking information on the building’s layout.

“[Rabbi Holtzberg] constantly spoke of his fear of a terrorist attack in the Chabad House,” said Meie Alfasi, a photographer for Shterum.org, a news website affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish outreach movement.

“Once I wanted to bring a Reuters photographer to document the Chabad House activities, but he was adamantly against the idea,” said Alfasi.

“He said that he was afraid of pictures, afraid of photographers and afraid of unnecessary public exposure that could harm the Chabad House that is located in a very sensitive area,” said Alfasi, who spent time a few months ago India, staying for a few days at the home of the Holtzbergs.

Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife, Rivka, and three other Israelis, as well as a Jews from the U.S. and Mexico, were killed after terrorists stormed Nariman House, a building in the heart of Mumbai’s tourist center where the Chabad headquarters is located. The Holtzbergs had duel U.S. and Israeli citizenship.

It was not immediately clear whether the Jews were killed by terrorists or during an ensuing raid on the Chabad house by Indian security forces.

A top Chabad official, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, said he believes the Indian forces were “not competent.” The official was in close coordination during last week’s drama with Indian officials as well as Israel’s foreign ministry and the FBI.

Levi Shemtov, executive director of Chabad in Washington, D.C., told Israel’s Army Radio yesterday he talked several times by phone with one of the terrorists holed up inside Nariman House. He said a terrorist answered Holzberg’s cell phone and claimed the hostages inside were all alive.

“I tried and tried and tried, and in the end someone answered and said, ‘hello,'” Shemtov said.

Shemtov explained the man who answered said he was an Urdu speaker, so Shemtov found an Urdu translator and dialed again. The man who answered “sounded very calm” and said his name was “Imran.”

“He didn’t want to tell me what he wanted. He said the rabbi was OK, everyone was OK, that if they did what he wanted he would free them,” Shemtov said.

Shemtov said the terrorist wanted to speak to the Indian government. He said he asked the man not to hurt the hostages and promised to help him get in touch with Indian officials.

“I asked if we could hear the voice of the rabbi, or someone who was alive there, and we only heard the voice of one woman screaming in English, ‘please help immediately,'” he said.

“I asked him to pass the phone to the rabbi. He said, ‘You’ve already asked for too much.'”

Eventually, Shemtov said, the assailant said the cell phone battery was dying and hung up.

During the initial attack, the Chabad center’s cook, Sandra Samuel, managed to escape with the Holtzberg’s 1-year-old son, Moshe.

“I took the child, I just grabbed the baby and ran out,” said Samuel.

She said that the rabbi and his wife, along with two other unidentified guests, were alive but were unconscious.

Chabad house targeted

Israeli security officials piecing together the events of last week confirmed that information indicated the Chabad house was specifically targeted in the attack amid reports terrorists may have even stayed at Nariman House to scope out the Jewish facilities.

Yesterday, the Times of India reported Amir Kasab, 21, the only terrorist captured by Indian authorities following the Mumbai attacks, told interrogators during questioning that he and his men were sent specifically to kill Israelis, claiming they were committing revenge attacks for “atrocities” against Palestinians.

One security source told the Times that Kasab’s colleagues killed in the operation had stayed at the Nariman House in the past.

“They have stayed in Nariman house on rental basis identifying themselves as Malaysian students,” said a source. Police were trying to determine why Nariman House rooms were given to non-Jews, the Times of India reported.

The report claimed that Kasab also revealed during questioning names and addresses of at least five people living in India who provided assistance to the terrorists in carrying out the attacks.

Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria told the Times of India, “We suspect there could be local assistants, but it is subject to verification. It will be very premature to comment on this at this stage, as our investigation is going on.”

Meanwhile, Indian newspapers reacted harshly to criticism from Israeli defense officials regarding the manner in which Indian forces raided the Chabad house and other terrorist targets throughout Mumbai, including luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals, a cinema and a crowded train station.

Israeli and international media quoted Israeli security officials stating the Indian raid operations were premature and were carried out before collecting enough intelligence on the terrorists and hostages inside. The Israeli criticism was carried prominently by the Indian media.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper yesterday quoted Indian newspapers reacting angrily to the Israeli criticisms, claiming Israel has a bad record in other hostage-rescue operations, aside from a successful 1978 operation in which Israeli forces saved Jewish hostages held at an airport in Entebbe.

India’s 60-hour terror rampage began last Wednesday night and ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen holed inside a luxury hotel. The official death count stood at 195, but is likely to rise after security forces complete a search of rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The assaults are being described by local media as “Mumbai’s 9/11.”

In addition to the Chabad center and several five-star hotels, terrorists reportedly armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives attacked a popular cafe packed with tourists, a local Metro Cinema, a crowded train station and a hospital. In one case, a police van was stolen and gunmen opened fire in the street indiscriminately. The terrorists reportedly arrived at India’s financial and tourist capital by boat before fanning out to launch the series of bloody attacks.


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