The shock and horror of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, came home to the United States on Friday as a Virginia father and his teenage daughter were identified as being among the more than 150 people killed. Along with two other Americans at a Jewish center in the city, a Brooklyn rabbi and his wife were found dead, although, incredibly, their 2-year-old son survived after being whisked away by his nanny.
The number of Americans killed is almost certain to rise as government officials continue to sort through the carnage of the attacks at two luxury hotels and other sites.
Along with the human toll, the violence also threatens to unravel what had been encouraging regional and American efforts to smooth relations between neighboring rivals India and Pakistan.
Virginians Alan Scherr, 58, and daughter Naomi, 13, had traveled to Mumbai on a trip emphasizing spirituality and meditation. Scherr, a former University of Maryland art professor, was eating with his daughter and other residents of the Synchronicity spiritual community in a tourist-friendly cafe when armed gunmen attacked. Four other Synchronicity members were injured. Two have undergone surgery for gunshot wounds; a third remains in intensive care.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn couple was found dead this morning. American Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, moved to Mumbai in 2003 to manage the Chabad House, a Hasidic community center and synagogue. Their son, Moshe, escaped during the siege with the help of his nanny and is now with his grandparents. It's still unclear if Rivka, an Israeli, had American citizenship.
The bodies of two other Americans, Leibish Teitlebaum and Bentzion Chroman, also were discovered at the Chabad House. The battle over the Jewish center ended only Friday morning, when authorities found five hostages and two gunmen dead inside.
Other Americans narrowly escaped at various sites hit by terrorists. Along with 65 other guests of an Italian restaurant in the Oberoi hotel, one Chicago family of five was barricaded in a banquet hall until it could flee safely.
The U.S. State Department has established a hotline for Americans concerns about family members in Mumbai: (888) 407-4747.
Overall, at least 22 foreigners have been killed by the attacks, along with at least 128 Indians. Because of the chaos at the scenes of the attacks, that number is expected to rise as more information becomes available. Meanwhile, at least one standoff between Indian troops and rebel gunmen continued at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel.
The attacks in India are hitting home in another way as well: The prospect of renewed tensions between Pakistan and India may seriously undermine both regional and U.S. diplomatic efforts to smooth relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
India may have already begun pointing fingers at Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday that the attacks were caused by militants outside the country. That was interpreted by many as an accusation toward Pakistan—which has been blamed in the past for supporting Muslim terrorist groups fighting for control of Kashmir territory disputed by India and Pakistan.
In an attempt to limit the political fallout, Pakistani officials announced today that the chief of their powerful intelligence organization will travel to India to help investigate the attacks. It will mark the first time a chief of Inter-Services Intelligence has visited India.
The United States has announced plans to send its own FBI investigative team to India to seek information about who was behind the attacks.
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