WASHINGTON – The United States is sending investigators to India to help unravel who was behind the terrorist attacks that targeted largely foreigners in the commercial and tourist center of Mumbai. Three Americans are confirmed among those injured.
The State Department urged Americans not to travel to the stricken city — at least through the weekend — as U.S. officials checked with Indian authorities and hospitals to learn more about the extent of casualties.
A U.S. investigative team headed to Mumbai on Friday, a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the U.S. and Indian governments were working out final details of the cooperative effort. The official declined to identify which agency or agencies the team members came from.
Department spokesman Robert McInturff said he could not identify those injured, but The Associated Press learned the name of one victim: Andi Varagona of Nashville, Tenn. She called her mother from a hospital Thursday and said she had been shot in the arm and leg while eating dinner at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel.
She said another Tennessee woman traveling with her was also injured, according to the mother, Celeste Varagona, but the woman's identity was not immediately available.
Alan Scherr, 58, and his daughter, Naomi, 13, who as members of the Faber, Virginia-based Synchronicity Foundation traveled to India to participate in a spiritual program, were missing late Thursday, said group spokeswoman Bobbie Garvey. "Our Indian contacts there have gone to all the hospitals, but they haven't located Alan or Naomi yet," Garvey said. "We're very hopeful they'll be found safe."
The group said in a statement that four members of the 25-person group — two Americans and two Canadians — who were staying at the Oberoi Hotel were wounded by gunfire, and were believed in stable condition.
McInturff, the State Department spokesman, said U.S. officials have activated a phone tree to contact American citizens who registered with the U.S. consulate in Mumbai. So far there is no information that any American has been killed in the attacks, McInturff said.
Authorities in India said Thursday at least 100 people were killed and at least 300 injured when suspected Islamic militants attacked 10 sites in Mumbai. Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular tourist attraction, hospitals and a crowded train station.
"It would be premature in view of the unfolding tragedy in Mumbai and the corresponding investigation to reach any hard-and-fast conclusions on who may be responsible for the attacks, but some of what we're seeing is reminiscent of past terrorist operations undertaken by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed," a U.S. counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity. The two groups mentioned by the official are Pakistani militants linked to Al Qaeda who have fought Indian troops in Kashmir.
President-elect Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an update Thursday and received several intelligence briefings.
President Bush expressed condolences to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a phone call from the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat.
"The president offered support and assistance to the government of India as it works to restore order, provide safety to its people and comfort to the victims and their families and investigate these despicable acts," press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.
The State Department set up a call center for Americans concerned about family members who may be in Mumbai. The number is 1-888-407-4747.