Rabbi with NYC ties held hostage in India

Terror attacks kill dozens
November 27, 2008 3:21:00 PM PST
Twelve hours after gunmen stormed a Jewish center in Mumbai, Sandra Samuel heard the cries of a small child outside the room in which she had barricaded herself. She opened the door, grabbed a 2-year-old old boy and ran outside with another center worker. They are the only ones to have emerged from the house run by the ultra-orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch.

"I took the child, I just grabbed the baby and ran out," said Samuel, 44, who has worked as a cook for the center for the last five years.

The boy, whom she identified as Moshe Holtzberg, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, was unharmed - but his blood-soaked pants spoke of the horrors inside. Holzberg is the main representative at Chabad house.

Samuel, who was looking after the boy at a nearby police station, said that as she ran out, she saw four people lying on the floor, apparently "unconscious."

Chabad spokesman Moni Ender in Israel said there were eight Israelis inside the house, including Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife.

Dozens of Indian commandoes have surrounded the five-story building, where heavy curtains hung behind windows broken by gunfire. Outside the center, thousands of people stood in the narrow alleyways watching the standoff.

The gunmen stormed the building Wednesday night during a series of coordinated attacks across this seaside city that have killed at least 100 people. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, said the gunmen seized a police vehicle, which allowed them access to the area around the Chabad house, which serves as an educational center, a synagogue and offers drug prevention services.

Samuel said she and Zakir Hussein, 22, the center's caretaker, locked themselves in their first floor room when they saw a gunman running up the stairs.

"Israelis and Jews, wherever they are, are under threat," said Ehud Raz, chief security officer at the Israeli consulate in Mumbai. "They are a target."

Neighbors had tried to protect the house as armed gunmen seized it Wednesday night. They clashed with the gunmen and throwing rocks at them in an effort to drive the militants away, said Puran Doshi, a businessman who lives nearby.

The crowd eventually retreated under fire from the assailants, who also threw several hand grenades, he said.

"They shot indiscriminately into the crowd," Doshi said.

Sanjay Bhasme, 40, who lives in the building behind Chabad house, said he notified the police after the shooting began about 9:45 p.m., but they took more than 30 minutes to arrive - and only after he'd repeatedly telephoned for help.

"My mind is on pause," said Joel Kurulkar, 24, a member of Mumbai's small Jewish community who was waiting outside. "I just want Rabbi to be safe, I just want Rabbi and his wife to come out."

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