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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
At Least 87 People Killed in Mumbai Attacks
Aired November 26, 2008 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: For the next two hours, we will be bringing you the latest on this breaking story out of Mumbai, where, just hours ago, terrorists launched a brazen attack, apparently targeting Americans and other Westerners.
Shortly after noon Eastern time, teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed as many as 10 locations across Mumbai. Now, the city, you may know better as Bombay. Well, the gunmen killed scores of people. They have wounded nearly 200 at this hour, are holding, as well, an unknown number of hostages.
Why Mumbai? Well, one reason may be that it is India's financial and entertainment capital. It's located, as you can see on the map here, on the West Coast. The map is also going to show you, as we zoom in, the four locations, four of the locations attacked today, including two five-star hotels, the hotel Oberoi and also the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal Palace, in addition, the Cafe Leopold, which is a popular hangout with Western tourists and a busy railway station.
But the terror has not ended tonight. Clashes between police and terrorists have raged for hours now, and the city is in chaos. One Indian businessman put it this way: "Mumbai is the New York of India. Imagine terrorists taking over the Waldorf and the Ritz, and then going on a shooting spree in Times Square."
It is a terrifying image. A little-known terrorist called the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the carnage, but it is not a confirmed report. We're going to have much more on that angle, though, coming up in this show.
We begin, however, with CNN's Andrew Stevens, who is staying in one of the hotels that was attacked.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bombs, gunfire, chaos, carnage. Mumbai, popular with Americans and the commercial capital of India, erupted in a coordinated terror attack.
It began around 10:00 p.m. local time. Armed with grenades, automatic weapons and explosives, an unknown number of extremists killed scores, including the city's anti-terrorism chief, and wounded hundreds.
At least 10 sites were targeted, including two luxury hotels, cafes, a hospital for women and children, a movie theater, and a train station. At the historic Taj Mahal Hotel, where a large plume of smoke rose hours after the attacks began, witnesses say gunmen were looking for U.S. and British citizens.
An untold number of people have been taken hostage. The eyewitness accounts are chilling.
MANUELA TESTOLINI, WITNESS: My colleague saw someone get shot just outside the glass doors of the restaurant. We heard gunfire and we heard grenades and there was a lot of panic, people running, people getting trampled.
STEVENS: The army has now moved into the hotel and across the city. Several terrorists have been killed or arrested. Others remain on the loose.
Yasmin Wong is a CNN employee visiting Mumbai.
YASMIN WONG, CNN EMPLOYEE: We heard sort of consistent gunfire and grenades and smashing glass and all sorts of commotion.
And I saw a guy outside my window above me, on my window, who basically had smashed through the window and was hanging out of the window.
STEVENS: Both President Bush and president-elect Barack Obama issued statements, each strongly condemning the attacks.
Who's behind this? Local reports say a group named the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility. However, some officials say it bears all the hallmarks of al Qaeda. Mumbai is a mecca for Western business men and women, many of them from America. It's believed thousands of U.S. citizens are in a city that is now under siege.
HILL: All right.
And Andrew Stevens is joining us live now from Mumbai, where, as we can see from the shot that you have there, the sun is up, day clearly under way there. And I imagine you're seeing a much different picture at this hour of the morning.
STEVENS: Erica, just in the last few minutes, we have been pushed back and back and back. We were originally up where these fire engines are. We are being pushed back and back.
And what I'm hearing is that there could be a new assault about to start. I can't confirm this at the moment, but this is what we have been told. There are perhaps 100 people still in this Taj Hotel here behind me, 100. They would be guests. They would be hostages, and they would also be hostage-takers.
I have got to -- with every one of these, I just cannot confirm the actual numbers at the moment, but this is what we're being told. As you can see, they are now dousing what became a quite significant fire only about half-an-hour ago, flames 20, 30 feet leaping out of those top -- top balconies there, where you can see the jets of water now being directed. We understand that the hostage-takers are still in there. The earlier reports have been saying that there are between seven and 12 hostages -- seven and 15 hostages -- excuse me -- both Indian, also of European and perhaps North American passport-holders as well.
What we have heard during the course of the last 10 hours or so, when this started was that -- was -- excuse me -- I'm just being told -- there are people -- there are people -- if you can just pan over, you can see that's -- there's people walking into the annex wing.
This -- this tower here is also part of the Taj as well. There were people trapped in that building all night as well. We're seeing people down there near the front gate. I can't -- I can't tell you what's happening at the moment, but if you just come across to close by these fire engines, you will see army guys in fatigues taking a -- taking a position there covering that entrance.
So, obviously, this is reaching some sort of new level, the hostage crisis here at the Taj Hotel. As I was saying earlier, Erica, there were gunmen -- when they went in, this is probably about 10 hours ago. This happened at 10:00 p.m. local time. And then now -- the time is now half past 8:00 in the morning.
They went in there, and they rounded people up and they asked for people with British and U.S. passports. And these are the ones they were after. We don't know how many or if any British nationals or U.S. nationals were taken or are hostages at this stage, but we -- we understand that it is a -- it is a possibility.
We're now just waiting to see what happens, Erica. It's obviously very tense here at the moment -- Erica, back to you.
HILL: Andrew, a quick question for you, because when we first came to you, you said you were getting word as you were being pushed back of a possible new assault.
Is that new assault one, if you know, is it aimed at the Taj Hotel specifically, or did you simply hear that there could be a new assault somewhere in Mumbai?
STEVENS: We think it's specifically the Taj.
We -- we think that there is the likelihood -- or the strong likelihood now -- that there may be a -- a renewed assault, a military maneuver, into the hotel in front of us there. We're not hearing any nonspecific threats from any other parts of the city at this stage.
Remember, 10 targets were attacked over the past 10 hours. There's been a very well-organized and many are saying now sophisticated, coordinated attack on very, very high-profile targets throughout this city, particularly a majority -- the vast majority of them coming from south Mumbai, where I am now.
Now, south Mumbai is the commercial heart of India's commercial city. This is a wealthy area. This is where a lot of foreign businessmen, indeed, foreign travelers, come. They stay at this hotel. This is a favorite.
There is one more hotel, the Oberoi hotel, which I haven't mentioned. We understand there is also a hostage crisis there. That is about 10 minutes from here by car. We're getting less information on that. And there could also, Erica, be gunmen still in a hospital, a women and children's hospital, again, not far from here. There are also women and children in that hospital.
It's a very, very fluid situation. Hard facts at this stage are hard to come by. I can tell you that the official death toll now stands at 87 people. Those 10 attacks included those two hotels. They included the hospital. They also included the main railway station, which is an enormous hub for rail passengers in -- in the city of Mumbai.
This is a city of 19 million people. It's being reported that gunmen burst into the railway station, opened fire with assault weapons, and also let off hand grenades. This is being reported in "The Times of India" newspaper, as well as a couple of others.
There are pictures on front pages of papers showing both the carnage on the floor inside the railway station, and also pictures showing what look like to be the terrorists. And as you can see there -- well, let's just take you back to the scene behind us here, Erica. Still waiting to see what happened.
We're seeing ambulances arrive, as well. So, we obviously are staying right on top of this -- Erica, meanwhile, though, back to you.
HILL: All right, we will take it, Andrew. We will be continuing to check in with you throughout the show, as well, for the latest developments. Andrew Stevens, thanks.
Now, on this Thanksgiving eve here in the U.S., both the outgoing and the incoming presidents are closely monitoring the crisis in Mumbai -- President Bush doing that from Camp David, president-elect Obama from his home in Chicago.
Obama has designated certain members of his transition team to be in regular contact with the State Department and with the Office of National Intelligence. He is getting updates from them, as well. And among the new details that we are learning, this chilling picture, this comes to us from Sky News. It shows an armed man who is believed to possibly be one of the assailants, but it's unclear, again, exactly who it is.
We're -- we're looking into this picture. Also unclear, just how many terrorists took part in today's attacks. And even though we have heard these reports of the obscure terrorist group Deccan Mujahideen claiming responsibility, U.S. officials have not confirmed that claim.
CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now.
Barbara, give us an idea. What kind of intel is the U.S. government looking at right now? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Erica, as we continue to look at these pictures unfold even at this hour from Mumbai, intelligence services around the world are looking at this as a possible game-changer, if you will, in the war on terror -- a senior U.S. official telling me just a few moments ago this is possibly the most well-coordinated attack they have seen in some time.
And it's these kinds of clues about the coordination, how it was financed, how it was carried out, the level of training, communication, how they got the weapons into the city of Mumbai without anyone noticing. What was the level of organization behind this attack against so many civilian targets?
They're going to go -- the U.S. intelligence community, the Indians, the British, intelligence services around the world, will now look at this and try and work their way backwards. What would it have taken to pull this off? And who and what groups have that kind of capability to be able to do it?
Now, this group that has claimed public responsibility, Deccan Mujahideen, that is one that the U.S. is so far not too clear about who is really behind that group. Nothing is confirmed, of course, tonight, so they are looking at other possibilities -- Erica.
HILL: All right. We know you will continue to follow that intel coming out as well. Barbara Starr, thanks.
The story, as you have heard in the reports from both Barbara Starr and Andrew Stevens, is changing by the minute. As we get new information in, we are going to have all the latest developments for you just ahead.
Also, Paul Cruickshank and CNN's Andrew Stevens back with us, in addition.
So many questions tonight about al Qaeda, whether it could have played a role in today's terror attacks -- we will get some answers.
Also, plenty to talk about on the blog. To join that conversation, log on to AC360.com.
Also ahead, the status of those hostages in Mumbai. How many Americans could be among them, and what will it take to free them?
Plus, how is the U.S. responding to this crisis at such a sensitive time, with the incoming and outgoing presidents both keeping a close watch.
The breaking developments -- when 360 continues.
HILL: We're bringing you pictures now. This is actually tape that we just got in from our sister network in India, CNN-IBN.
These are pictures, as I understand it, of -- of the Oberoi Hotel, which, of course, was another one of the targets in these attacks, also a very well-known hotel in Mumbai, a very luxurious hotel.
And we're hearing now -- I believe if I'm hearing this correctly -- more shots fired. And was that at this hotel? At the Oberoi. So, we're hearing more shots fired at this hotel now.
We had just heard moments ago at the top of the hour from our correspondent Andrew Stevens, who is standing by in Mumbai -- he was at the Taj Hotel, the other target of some of these attacks, one of the other targets -- who had said he was hearing word there may be a new assault coming. We don't know if that was related at all to the shots we're hearing that were fired at the Oberoi.
These are live pictures coming to us from the Taj Hotel. And it looks like, as you can see, people running here. I'm not sure if those people just came out of the hotel, but we are hearing reports of gunfire, as well, at the Taj Hotel, again, in Mumbai -- both of these hotels well-known to foreigners, well-known to business men and women who come here, luxurious, well-known hotels dealing with some of the well-to-do and two big targets today.
Andrew Stevens is standing by for us, still, as I understand it, outside the Taj Hotel, and I'm sure in a safe spot.
Andrew, describe the scene for us what now -- right now. What's happening?
STEVENS: Well, first of all, we're hearing several gunshots. We just heard several gunshots, rounds of gunshots, about seven gunshots.
And, as you see now, they're calling in ambulances, which are just by our position here. They're calling in ambulances. You can see, behind you, there are several dozen, looks like -- you actually won't be able to see this. Scott (ph) is on the ambulances at the moment.
But, as I look towards the entrance of Tower wing of the hotel, I can see what appears to be dozens of people standing there, this after several rounds of gunfire just -- just echoed out across the square we're at.
Now, we just heard from the -- a local media station, which had the police commissioner for Mumbai, Mr. A.N. Roy, who said probably only about 10 minutes ago, Erica, that this operation will be concluded within minutes.
When we talk about this operation, we're talking about the -- a hostage rescue operation, or at least getting those who aren't hostages, but were still in the hotel out. Now, they -- he also said they have now all been evacuated safely.
We are talking about those people inside the hotel. It apparently includes the hostages. There are no mention of the hostage-takers. Obviously, this is a -- a very confusing situation at the moment. But the police commissioner of Mumbai, Mr. A.N. Roy, saying that all people inside the -- the -- the Taj have been now evacuated safely -- no mention of the actual hostage-takers.
So, that's -- that's the situation as we see it, Erica. And you will see the ambulances now pulling up there outside the Tower wing of the Taj Hotel. And I can see -- no doubt, you can see as well -- people now climbing into the back of one of those ambulances.
They appear to be walking unaided. And, from where we can -- where we're standing, from what we can see, I -- I can't see any injuries or any injured people there, although there are plenty of ambulances here lining up, ready to go and pick those people up.
So, just in the last five minutes, several gunshots ringing out from the Taj Hotel, then a call for ambulances, and the people standing on the steps there coming out from inside the hotel. We can assume they are guests in this hotel who have been caught up in this nightmare for the last 10 or so hours.
At 10:00, around about 10:00 last night, gunmen burst into this hotel, one of the great landmarks of Mumbai, and quickly rounded up people, looking for British and U.S. passport-holders. They have taken people hostage. There have been several, we assume, battles during the intervening hours. There have been several explosions reported.
The building, I should point out, is still actually on fire. There is still smoke coming, sort of streaming from the ceiling, from the roof -- the front roof of this building. That fire has now been going for about two or three hours now.
It flared up just after we got here, about half-an-hour ago. You will see a fire crane there. It's been dousing the flames. It now seems to have -- be winning the battle on that -- on the fire in the front of the hotel.
And, as we understand at the moment, Erica, hostages have -- the hostages and the guests who were still in the hotel have been freed.
Again, I hesitate to say this is an absolute confirmation. We're -- we're quoting the police commissioner. But communications have been pretty strained throughout the past 10 hours or so on exactly what has been happening.
And I need, also, to point out, Erica, that this is not the only hostage situation in Mumbai at this hour. About five minutes away from here, the Oberoi Hotel is also reported to have a hostage crisis in progress. Gunfire has also been heard at that hotel in the past 10 minutes or so. This is news we're getting from local television.
I can't tell you any more than that, but there is a hostage crisis there. This one in front, we're looking at now, may now have been resolved. We just can't tell at the moment, but, certainly, the signs are looking good, the people standing out there on the balcony, on the steps of the entrance there, and an ambulance just backing up there.
There doesn't seem to be any great urgency, which tends to suggest that the situation certainly, at least there, would appear to be under control -- Erica.
HILL: All right, Andrew, thanks.
We want to bring in now Paul Cruickshank, who is a terrorist analyst and terrorism analyst and fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security. Also joining us, John McLaughlin, who is former acting director of the CIA and a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Gentlemen, good to have you both with us.
Paul, I want to start with you.
As we're listening to these latest details from Andrew Stevens that, possibly, the hostage situation which we thought may have been under way at the Taj Mahal may now be over, reports of gunshots fired, when you hear these details, and you see the way the people are exiting the building, what does it tell you?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, FELLOW, CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY: Well, every -- it's a little bit soon to really tell what is going on over there.
But, in terms of responsibility, you have got to look at capability and track record. And two groups really spring to mind here, both affiliated with al Qaeda. One group is Indian. One is Pakistani.
The Indian group is called the Indian Mujahideen. It's a group which, over the last year, has been responsible for a series of major attacks across the country, which have killed hundreds. The Pakistani group is the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba group, which has launched a number of attacks in the last several years in India as well. In 2001, it launched an attack on the Indian parliament. It's suspected to have had a role in 2006 in an attack on Bombay commuter services.
What you have seen happening within India is, some of these indigenous groups increasingly buying into bin Laden's global jihad. And, so, this may be sort of part of it. Particularly, the sort of targeting of British and Americans may be part of that sort of idea.
HILL: So, even if -- and, John, I will bring you in on this one -- whether or not it does turn out that, in fact, these groups are related to al Qaeda, or if al Qaeda is involved, could al Qaeda, though, stand to benefit either way from this situation?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Oh, absolutely, Erica.
Anything that creates additional chaos in India will benefit al Qaeda. Al Qaeda seeks to destabilize all of these countries in the region. And, you know, we think of them as countries, but al Qaeda thinks as this part of the world as a network. It's a network that extends from Afghanistan to Pakistan to India and Bangladesh.
And, as Paul indicated, many of the groups in it may not be card- carrying al Qaeda members, or wearing al Qaeda T-shirts, but they're all benefiting from the same sort of logistical apparatus, network of safe houses, and so forth.
So, it stands to gain from it. And, in many respects, I think this is India's 9/11.
HILL: That's a pretty strong statement right there, John.
I want to bring in Ken Robinson, who is joining us now, CNN security analyst and former military intelligence officer.
Ken, we have talked a number of times when dealing with hostage situations. As you watch these pictures, I know you have been seeing -- you have been watching them as -- as the people are coming out. We just lost that signal there, but we will get it back for you.
What do you see? How are they handling this?
KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one -- what I have been looking for is incident command. I have been looking for some type of structured command-and-control, where you're dealing with the people who have evacuated the building, you're dealing with any wounded people who have been released, and first-responders acting in an assertive and an affirmative way.
And, when you look at the live video, for the last eight hours, really, you haven't seen a lot of evidence of that. The -- the forces are really caught on their heels.
The important thing that John just said is really what takes advantage of this is, this is a distributed network of ideologically aligned people. And the strike here is an economic strike. And even though we're focused on the explosion and we're focused on the fire, the real issue here is the measure of effectiveness that they want, that the terrorists wants.
And it's going to be a big economic hit. And it's going to geopolitically strain relations between India and Pakistan. And retribution on this will have to be carefully done. And the hostage rescue will have to really be carefully done, when you look at the distributed nature of where all these hostages are being held, with people who clearly came here prepared to die.
HILL: And we're going to talk more about how that preparation has come together, what you're seeing in this attacks.
Ken Robinson, Paul Cruickshank, John McLaughlin, stay with us.
We will continue to take a look at what is happening live on the scene in Mumbai, also discuss with our panelists what this could mean for both India and for the United States.
Stay with us. You're watching ANDERSON COOPER 360, this breaking news edition, coming to you on India.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HILL: And you are looking at live pictures now, I believe, coming from our sister network CNN-IBN, coming to us out of Mumbai. These are pictures of the exterior of the Taj Hotel, one of as many as 10 targets targeted by terrorists today in Mumbai.
It happened early -- actually, late last night, local time. It is now just about 8:30 in the morning there.
You're looking at a door of the Taj Hotel, where we are told -- our correspondent on the ground has been told by the Mumbai police commissioner that the hostages that were believed to be being held inside have been released -- that police commissioner telling our correspondent Andrew Stevens there that all of those hostages have been released. We are trying to confirm that.
Also following developments at the Oberoi Hotel, which is another hotel that was targeted in Mumbai. At both the Taj and Oberoi Hotel, we have heard in just the last five or 10 minutes that there have been reports of additional gunshots. So, we are looking into that. Again, it's a very fluid situation, but we are bringing you the details as they come in to us, as they happen. We will continue to follow it for you.
I want to get back now to our panel, joining us. Paul Cruickshank is a terrorist analyst and fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security, John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA and a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. And Ken Robinson is a security analyst and former military intelligence officer.
Paul, I want to pick up with you on something actually that Ken said before the break. He was saying the real issue with these attacks is the effectiveness. And, earlier, when we heard from Barbara Starr, you were shaking your head she was saying, intelligence officials are looking at how these attacks were so well-coordinated and so well-planned.
The effectiveness, the coordination, what does those tell you about who could be behind this?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, it tells me that it is probably some sort of established jihadist group, like I was talking about just before, maybe the Indian Mujahideen, or maybe even a Pakistani militant group, a Kashmiri group with close ties to al Qaeda.
What they're doing here is, they're trying to send a message. And, really, they have almost already succeeded. They have got the world's attention. If there's a prolonged hostage situation, they will -- then they will have more world's attention for the issue they really wanted to focus on.
They may want to do two things here. They may want to try and decouple India from its strategic alliance with the United States, but, also, in the people they're going after, the hostages they're trying to take, to sort of punish the United States and Britain and other countries for going into war in Iraq and other issues. It was just last week that Ayman Al-Zawahiri called on the mujahideen around the world to continue to inflict harms on -- harm on Americans.
HILL: So, that's -- that's one thing we're looking at.
But you bring up an interesting point about the United States and those attacks going after, because, as we heard, there were reports the gunmen came into these hotels saying, "We want to see the U.S. -- those with U.S. and British passports."
John, there's been a lot of talk recently, as the focus from Islamist terrorists is on the Western world, is on the U.S., that India is perhaps becoming a breeding ground for extreme Islamist terrorists.
Do you agree with that?
MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's possibly true, Erica, because, up until now, India has been a place where we have seen a lot of indigenous terrorism.
But, in truth, today, in the Internet age, there is really nothing -- no such thing as indigenous terrorism that's purely indigenous. These guys benefit from all of the things that are at their fingertips on the Internet, that probably are available to them through contacts with al Qaeda, even if they aren't al Qaeda but through contacts with al Qaeda and affiliated groups.
And so I think what's really happening here is that India is just today joining the club of countries that have experienced terrorism that has a domestic base but connections to events and people and training and such beyond its borders, and I will be very surprised if it turns out to be anything other than that.
I would add, if I could, just one or two thoughts to the motives that Paul laid out. Certainly, it may be possible here that they're trying to drive a wedge between the United States and India, but we also have to remember that India is, though the Muslim population there is a minority, it is still the largest Muslim population in the world. It's 150 million people.
And government studies in India have shown that they are kind of at the bottom of the social pyramid, so there may be grievances here that they're working out for the Muslim population.
HILL: Well, those are the things we're going to continue to discuss and follow with all of you. You stay with us. We'll be checking with you throughout the show.
CNN's Andrew Stevens also is live in front of the Taj Hotel there in Mumbai. He is going to join us just ahead. New details he's getting in about the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel there in Mumbai and what's happening there. Recent gunshots, potential -- possible hostages, I should say, released. Also, if the terrorists do have a message for President-elect Obama, what should his response be? The political fallout of these attacks as well as the options, coming up when we talk with David Gergen next.
And a bit later, an eyewitness to horror. The firsthand accounts from Mumbai. All that coming up on AC 360. Stay with us.
HILL: And we are looking now at live pictures coming to us from our sister network in Mumbai, CNN-IBN. These are pictures from right outside the Taj Hotel, where in just the last -- I would say 10-15, possibly 20 minutes, we have heard reports of soldiers possibly -- soldiers rushing in. There have also been reports of gunfire.
And our correspondent on the scene, Andrew Stevens, showing us the pictures, telling us what was happening as people were coming out of the hotel. There have been reports that those people were perhaps hostages. We had heard that there was a hostage situation, difficult to confirm the numbers of people who were possibly being held hostage, also where they were from. Because we had heard that the terrorists were looking for people with both U.S. and British passports.
But the Mumbai police commissioner telling our correspondent on the ground there that, in fact, all of those inside the hotel have now evacuated and, as they were coming out, they were walking unaided, did not appear to be injured leaving that hotel, going into waiting ambulances.
Again, this from the Taj hotel. Live pictures there. You can see some of the soldiers. We had heard recent reports of gunfire. That probably in about the last 20 minutes.
We're going to continue to update you throughout the night on that. Again 12 hours now since those initial attacks.
And for five terrifying hours today in Mumbai, Yasmin Wong, one of our CNN colleagues, hid under her bed in the Taj Mahal Hotel as she listened to the sound of gunfire ringing around her.
Now, thankfully, she made it out of the hotel. She's able to join us now on the phone with more details of this harrowing experience, gripping day that you had.
Yasmin, first of all, you actually were sleeping when it started. Was it the gunfire that woke you up?
YASMIN WONG, EYEWITNESS: Yes, basically I thought it was fireworks or firecrackers in the lobby, and I just woke up and called my boss right away, because he was staying at the other wing. And I asked him what was going on. And we were just then convinced it must have been gunfire.
Then we turned on the local news, and they reported some gangster shooting. That's what we were told. HILL: So you thought it was just some sort of gang-related activity. Were you concerned for your own safety at that point?
WONG: Yes. Well, I was going to -- I guess we thought it was gang related, probably would be over in an hour, no big deal. And then, you know, as the hours went by and it got more serious, as more gunfire and then just more unknown -- you know, unknown factors. And, you know, to make it even worse they turned off the television, as well. So basically, we had no idea what was going on.
HILL: I believe we're showing a picture of the exterior of your room. When you did -- when was it that you finally learned what was going on? Because as I understand it, you were stuck in your hotel room for five hours.
WONG: Yes, we found out what was going on through CNN colleagues, actually, who -- other colleagues who were texting us who were watching the local news from Delhi or, you know, other places in India and were telling us what was going on, and that's how we knew. But otherwise we had no idea. All we heard was just, you know, like a constant sound of gunfire and grenades and glass and all sorts of activity just going on. I guess lingering in and out during the duration.
HILL: And as you're hearing all that, at what point did you decide, "I need to get out of here"?
WONG: Well, to be honest, you know, we were -- you know, CNN has a lot of security measures. And we were basically -- you know, I had hit a point where there was actually a fire in the room above my room that was actually started by a grenade or a bomb. And it was increasingly in my room and outside the corridor of my bathroom.
And basically, CNN had to make a call whether we would leave the room or stay in the room. And at that point we just had to run out of the hotel before the fire actually came into my room. So that was when we decided to leave.
HILL: So were portions of your room actually on fire at that point, Yasmin?
WONG: Well, it wasn't my portion, but the bathroom was all smoked up.
WONG: And the outside, like my neighbor's door. And my neighbor, like on the window next to me, also was on fire. My neighbor smashed through the window and was hanging out of his balcony. So like I said, at that stage it wasn't actually in my room but, you know, I think there was maybe a three-minute window where we just had to get out of there.
HILL: So how did you escape then? Because you actually got out of the hotel. As I understand it, you're now staying with a friend. But what was that like as you're not only trying to get out of the hotel, but how did you get anywhere else with all the chaos?
WONG: Well, the thing is when I walked out of the room there was silence. It was, like, this eerie silence. There was not a person around and it was very smoky. And I tried -- I was next to the lobby atrium, and I didn't want to go down the main lobby. They have a spiral staircase.
And so I tried to kind of go to one end of the wing, and it was all dark and smoky and I couldn't find anyone. So I ended up going down the main lobby and, you know, through -- as I was going down I saw, actually, a few casualties here and there, unfortunately.
And I also saw some, I guess they were police, like, hidden in some of the rooms and stuff, and they just told me to get out. And I tried to go to the front door. That was locked. And then I ended up going to the back pool side, which had been smashed to pieces and just basically ran through the pool and out the back entrance and actually didn't see anybody at that time. So...
HILL: It's quite a tale and amazing that you were so calm as you tell it to us Yasmin. We're so happy that you are safe tonight and we will be hearing more from you. Thank you.
Just ahead, we are going to get back to a reporter who is on the ground right now in Mumbai. The situation there continues to develop by the minute.
Also, responding to terror. President-elect Obama is closely monitoring this crisis in Mumbai. We will speak next with David Gergen about the political fallout of the attacks and options there. All that just ahead as 360 continues.
HILL: A massacre in the heart of Mumbai. The terror there began nearly 12 hours ago, and it appears to be far from over.
According to witness reports, the terrorists appear to have been looking for Americans. Some U.S. citizens may have been taken hostage, but frankly, we don't know at this hour. That is one of the things we are trying to confirm.
We do know that President Bush and President-elect Obama are keeping a very close eye on this deadly assault. But going forward, what steps does President-elect Obama and what steps does Washington need to take in the wake of this attack?
Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser, David Gergen. Also, CNN's Ed Hunt -- Ed Henry, who is following Obama in Chicago and following the transition.
David, I want to start with you, because you have worked in the White House during similar overseas crises. President Bush being briefed, President-elect Obama getting that same information. The teams are coordinating. But what does Barack Obama need to do now to both, A, support President Bush and, B, show the American people and the world that he can handle a terrorist situation with a major ally?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the obvious point, Erica, is that, even as Barack Obama's inheriting the worst economic mess in nearly 80 years, he's also inheriting an extraordinarily dangerous world. So he spent the last five or six days trying to shore up public confidence, not only in the current economy but what he's going to do, the team he's going to pull in place. He named Paul Volcker, as you know, to be head of an advisory board, a White House advisory board today, another very splendid appointment for him.
But early next week on Monday/Tuesday he's expected to name his national security team. And we'll get a chance for the first time to know for sure who is going to be surrounding him.
Because it's very clear in the first year of his presidency he's going to be focusing on the American economy and economic recovery, and he's going to have to delegate, to a very significant degree, responsibility for overseeing terrorism in this part of the world, as well as many other foreign policy problems, to perhaps Hillary Clinton, and Bob Gates, and Jim Jones and others. And we may know who his national intelligence officials are going to be, leaders are going to be.
But there's a second really important point here, and I think it goes back to what John McLaughlin was saying earlier. These terrorist groups do not respect borders, and they see this as an arc of crisis. And what must be troubling to the Obama team tonight is the idea that perhaps these three countries are now starting to bleed together in terms of the terrorist threat.
We thought about Afghanistan and Pakistan being separate problems. They have gradually become one problem, what Richard Holbrooke calls the "F"-pack problem. But now there is evidence that this may be spilling over into India, too. There was an attack on the Indian embassy in Afghanistan in Kabul just -- not long ago, which seemed to be carried out by the Taliban.
If India gets drawn into this vortex so that you have India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as areas of instability, that would be an enormous challenge for the United States. India is such an important friend, ally, and a growing international economic partner.
So this is -- it's possible that things have taken up a new and very dangerous turn now in international affairs. I think that's what John McLaughlin was trying to underscore. And that's what has to be right, front and center as the Obama team sits down. After they're announced next week, they've got to start mapping out their plans, just as the Summers, you know, Geithner, Volcker team are doing.
HILL: Have to start doing that.
HILL: I want to bring in Ed Henry now, because I imagine though, that even though it may not be officially out there, Ed Henry, behind closed doors, that is exactly what the Obama team is doing right now. What are you hearing from that camp tonight?
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That they are reaching out to every official they can within the Bush administration and try to make sure that the Obama team has as much information as possible.
In fact, in fact, new this hour, just in the last hour, Barack Obama has spoken by telephone with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We've learned that information. And she is now promising privately that she will keep him in the loop on all the information that he needs.
And as David has been pointing out, there really has been a lot of coordination and cooperation on the financial crisis. And now we're seeing it in the first national security crisis, perhaps, of this transition period.
There's always been a lot of concern by the Bush White House that, during this transfer of power, that terrorists could try to take advantage of that, either on U.S. soil or somewhere else. We saw that in Spain. We saw that in Scotland during previous transfers of power.
And that was one of the reasons why Barack Obama went to the White House so quickly after the election, within a week, to meet with President Bush face-to-face. Spoke about a lot of issues but mostly national security.
And so what they're trying to do here in Chicago is keep Barack Obama up on the situation right up into the minute. He's at his home right now. He's going to be there with family and friends for Thanksgiving. But we're told he's getting briefings by his national security officials, who are in touch with the Bush team.
And so, at least on the surface, both sides are trying to keep each other in the loop because, let's face it, this is really the first test for Barack Obama, even though he has not been sworn in yet. The world is going to be watching his every word and his every move.
HILL: They will indeed. David, as we look at this situation as a whole, just stepping back from it, if it's true that Americans were, in fact, targeted here, what can and what should the U.S. government do?
GERGEN: Well, firstly, you know, the Bush administration is the presidency and the administration in charge. It's not Obama. But they've got to do everything they can to protect the American lives of people in India, especially in Mumbai.
But, secondly, they need to work much more closely with Indian intelligence officials, and some of those conversations have already started. This fall India -- Indian and U.S. intelligence officials were conferring about terrorist threats. They -- Erica, it's really important in this situation to figure out who are these people? What are their motivations? How are they tied to al Qaeda? Are they inspired by or are they fed by or are they financed by al Qaeda? Where is this -- is this an independent group? Does this have something much more to do with the Muslim/Hindu tensions in India, or is this part of a larger international effort? And if so, it's much more dangerous.
And those -- obviously, intelligence always looks at those things but you've now got to put an intense focus on this. If it's true, John McLaughlin said that this is the 9/11 for India, that's a big darned deal. And you've got to really understand that and work -- by the way, the Europeans have got a strong interest in this, too. So it's not just a question of working only with India. It's a question of bringing international intelligence organizations together and possibly, you know, counterterrorism efforts have to be launched. You may need to use various kind of forces to put this down.
HILL: All right, David Gergen, Ed Henry. We will be checking in with you a little bit later.
Stay with us as we continue to follow these breaking developments out of Mumbai. Our CNN correspondents on the ground there in India, going to join us live. They will share with us what they saw as these attacks were taking place. Also what they have learned at this hour about just who is behind this attack, these multiple attacks, rather. All that just ahead as 360 continues.
HILL: Live pictures coming to us now. Actually, though, these have got to be on tape, because it is clearly daylight at this time, I believe, in Mumbai, based on our other shots. But this is some tape, as you can see, in the aftermath of the attacks which struck Mumbai at least ten different locations, we're learning. This happened just over 12 hours ago in Mumbai, basically, the financial capital of India.
Also, attacks at two very -- two very luxurious hotel, hotels popular with western, specifically American businessmen and women, the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel.
And we're going to get the latest now on what is happening in Mumbai at this hour from our correspondents who are on the ground there, Andrew Stevens and Mallika Kapur, who have been following this for you.
Again, just to recap: terrorists launched a series of deadly attacks there today. And we know at least 87 people have been killed, nearly 200 others injured. It is believed that American citizens and interests were targeted specifically by the killers.
Just moments ago, there were new gunshots at the Taj Mahal Hotel, also the Oberoi Hotel. The hostages there at the Taj Hotel, we're told, were freed. They were loaded onto buses.
For the latest now, our CNN reporters who are there on the ground. Andrew Stevens and Mallika Kapur both joining us from Mumbai.
Andrew, I want to get the latest from you. Update us.
The hostage situation, I know you had heard that all of hostages, in fact everybody who was in the hotel, had been evacuated. Did that include both hostages and guests thought to still be in the hotel and employees?
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this stage, Erica, we think it does. What I was told about 40-odd minutes ago was that there were an estimated 100 people, guests and hostages, still in the hotel.
About ten minutes after that, we started hearing what appeared to be gunshots. There were seven or eight rounds of gunshots. And then the hostages started coming out of the main entrance here behind me. You can see there's a sort of -- there's an archway through there. Just to the left of that, you'll see behind those ambulances, that is where the hostages came out. Obviously, we're at quite a distance from them.
But it did seem to be several dozen people come out of that. They have all now gone. They've been taken in buses, we assume, to local hospitals to be checked out.
But from what we could see here, from what we can see through the camera lens, there didn't seem to be any injuries amongst those hostages. We also heard from the police commissioner that a rescue had been successfully concluded and all the hostages had been safe. We're just awaiting for double confirmation of that.
But certainly, if you look behind me here, Erica, the scene, that the tensions have ratcheted down significantly. There is -- this building is still on fire. Part of the roof behind me is on fire. But there is certainly not the same level of tension here there was, say 30 minutes ago. There does seem to have been a conclusion to this operation.
HILL: Well, we can certainly hope for the best there.
Mallika, I know that you are, both of you, actually, are quite familiar with this hotel. And earlier, I heard you talking about this security at the hotel and what it was like a couple of weeks ago, before certain measures were reduced and what it's like now. Give us an idea how secure is the Taj Hotel, both right before the attacks happened and a couple of weeks ago when there were more measures in place.
MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of weeks ago, the security was really, really tight at the hotel. Let me just give you an example.
The Taj Hotel is a very grand, old building. It's a beautiful building with a very big fancy driveway. But cars couldn't even get onto the source (ph). They couldn't enter the driveway of the hotel because it was completely barricaded off. It looked almost like the entrance to a fortress.
When you drove and you saw it, you wondered if you were (UNINTELLIGIBLE); security was that tight. It was fortified so much. You had to go through two metal detectors. There were sniff dogs all around the place. Bags were thoroughly searched, even children's bags were thoroughly searched. And just about 10 days ago, they really relaxed it, and the barricades are gone. The cars can drive up to the porch. The sniffer dogs, you see one or two of them around. It has been a pretty drastic change in security just over the last week or 10 days.
HILL: Which really puts this in a whole new light.
What about the reports that we've heard that a gunman came in and were asking for people with either U.S. or British passports. Mallika, is there any more confirmation on that and what may have happened to some of those people?
KAPUR: No confirmation on that. We do know that about 15 hostages were held at the Taj. Now, some local channels have been reporting that the gunmen came and asked people to differentiate -- differentiate into groups according to nationalities, asked (ph) whether they were U.K. or U.S. passport holders. But we independently at CNN, we have not been able to verify whether that's true.
If that is true, then that is significant, because that's the fourth time an attack on -- in Indian soil would have differentiated people or attacked people, single people out on the basis of nationalities. That has not happened in India before.
HILL: Sadly, though, India has had a history of attacks and specifically, terror attacks and, unfortunately, has had to deal with it several times in the past.
Andrew, when you were speaking with authorities just a little while ago, earlier this hour, are they confident at this point that there will not be any additional attacks in the short term? Or is there still some concern there?
STEVENS: Well, there are still obvious concerns, because as far as we are aware, and as far as the information we're getting, indeed the media here in Mumbai is getting, there is still an ongoing hostage situation in another hotel about 10 minutes from here, the Oberoi Hotel, obviously, another very well known brand, an international hotel, a hotel that attracts international business travelers, as well as international tourists, as well.
We have few details on what is going on at the Oberoi Hotel. There has been gunfire. We understand there are hostages there. There is also the military, we have been told, is inside the building. This information has been coming to us for the past two hours or so. We haven't actually heard yet any outcome.
HILL: OK. Andrew, we know you'll continue to follow it for us. Andrew Stevens and Mallika Kapur, thank you, both.
Just ahead, at the top of the hour, we have the latest for you on this breaking news out of Mumbai. New details for you, new facts at the top of the hour about the deadly terror attack, aimed at Americans and other westerners, and the hostages which may still be -- who may still be being held there in Mumbai.
Stay with us, as we continue right here on CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)