Indian commandos may have killed some Chabad hostages, ZAKA head tells 'Post'

Holtzberg apparently wrapped wife's body in tallit before his death.

The Indian commando raid launched to save the lives of Jewish and Israeli hostages at Mumbai's Chabad House may have inadvertently ended the lives of one or more of the hostages, the head of a six-man ZAKA team in the terror-stricken Indian city told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Speaking by phone from Mumbai, Haim Weingarten, the head of the Mumbai ZAKA team, said, "Based on what I saw, [although] I can't identify the type of bullets in the bodies [of the victims], I don't think the terrorists killed all the hostages, to put it gently." All six Jewish and Israeli hostages found dead in the Chabad House were killed by either gunshot wounds or shrapnel from grenade blasts, or both, Weingarten said, adding that he didn't know who threw or fired the grenades that wounded the hostages. Although he lacked forensic tools to determine time of death, Weingarten said his team's observations led him to believe that "some of the hostages were killed on Wednesday [when gunmen first entered the building], some on Thursday, and some on Friday morning [during the start of the commando raid]." After a prolonged delay, an air force transport plane carrying Israel Police forensics experts and a second ZAKA team took off for Mumbai on Sunday evening. A ZAKA source told the Post the plane would probably return to Israel with the bodies of the hostages on Monday night. ZAKA officials believe that in a final act of love, the director of the Chabad House, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, wrapped the body of his wife Rivka in a tallit before succumbing to his own wounds during the final hours of the siege. ZAKA volunteers on the scene found the bodies of Israeli grandmother Yocheved Orpaz, 62, and Jewish Mexican national Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, 50, bound to one another with a phone cord. Members of the ZAKA team found the bodies of six Jewish hostages at the Chabad House minutes after a two-day raid by Indian commandos ended on Saturday. However, Indian security forces ordered them out of the building before they could remove the bodies, fearing they would step on grenades scattered throughout the facility. The security forces allowed them to return only hours later. Based on observations of the bodies, ZAKA officials estimate that Rabbi Holtzberg was the last to die. They placed his death close to the time that Indian commandos, who were dropped onto the roof on Friday morning, fought their way down the multi-floor building. Holtzberg's body was found close to the tallit-wrapped body of his wife, Rivka, ZAKA officials said, adding that he may have managed to hide and survive long enough to wrap his wife. They did not know whether Holtzberg had succumbed to wounds sustained earlier or whether he was killed on Friday. The remaining hostages were killed by the terrorists during the previous two days, according to their estimates. After being allowed to return to the facility, the ZAKA team noticed the bodies of Holtzberg and Kashrut supervisor Bentzion Chroman, 26, lying in two vehicles outside, Weingarten said. They had been placed there by Indian officials. "We entered the building... and saw two more bodies upstairs," he added, referring to the bound bodies of Orpaz and Rabinovich. Inside the library, they found the body of Israeli-American Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum slumped near an open Talmud volume, Weingarten said. Rivka's body was taken by Indian security forces to the local morgue, while the ZAKA team oversaw the removal of the remaining five bodies. The team then began searching for two Israelis said by Israel's foreign ministry to be missing after failing to make contact with their families. If all had gone as planned, Rabinovich would have arrived in Israel on Monday to make aliya and help her son Manuel celebrate his 18th birthday. According to the Jewish Agency, she had been in India for several months and was in contact with their emissaries there. A divorced mother of three, she left behind a daughter, 21-year-old Orly, in Mexico as well as Manuel and her third child, 24-year-old Jean, both already living in Israel. Amid mounting criticism of the way India handled the attacks and failed to prevent them, Home Minister Shivraj Patil submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday, saying he took "moral responsibility" for the terrorist assaults. Speaking to the Post, a senior Indian counter-terrorism expert, who asked that his name be withheld, said it was possible that terrorists killed a number of hostages when they first entered the Chabad House. "At the start they may have shot some of the hostages, when they [were] full of initial rage, hatred and bravado. That is how they operate," he said. The source said he was puzzled by a number of aspects of the response by Indian security forces to the Chabad House siege. "I was surprised by the fact that the raid was launched in broad daylight at 7:30 in the morning. It was a daylight assault with helicopters, which I found puzzling," the source said. The source explained that the Indian cabinet, not the military, closely controlled all details of the rescue attempts and ordered all of the anti-terrorist raids, including the operation at the Chabad House. "All operations of this type require political clearance," he said, adding that Indian authorities believed some hostages had been alive when the raid was launched. "If they believed all the hostages were dead, the building would have been shelled and the commandos would not be risked in a raid," the source explained. "Usually, extra caution is used and raids are launched only when negotiations come to an end or when the terrorists start killing hostages," he added. The source said Indian security agencies may have attempted to gather information about the Chabad House, such as who was inside, from Chabad's headquarters in New York before giving the green light for the attempted rescue operation. "The Cabinet Committee on Security holds an emergency meeting, followed by a Crisis Management Cell meeting of core heads of all security agencies who are going to react," the source said.