Terrorists who bound and killed at least six at Chabad House 'deliberately targeted' Jewish building

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg named among the victims; four Israelis still missing in Mumbai; Israelis who survived ordeal fly home.

Holtzbergs 248.88  (photo credit: AP)
Holtzbergs 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The worst fears of family members, desperate for news of their loved ones in Mumbai's Chabad House, were realized Saturday, as the Foreign Ministry announced that the bodies of four Israelis and two Jews from other countries had been recovered from the building. The grim tidings came after a dramatic and drawn-out Indian commando raid on the building, lasting over two days, came to a close. Israeli media reported that some of the victims were found wrapped in prayer shawls, in accordance with Jewish burial tradition. The reports speculated that one of the hostages had wrapped the bodies before he was killed. According to unconfirmed reports attributed to Indian security sources, most of the hostages were found bound and gagged by the commandos, and had been shot long before Indian forces landed on the roof from a helicopter on Thursday night. There were conflicting reports about other bodies found in the building. At least one, and possibly three, are believed to be of Israelis or Jews. The bodies of an Indian police officer and of a terrorist have also recovered from the building, the Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post. The Indian commandos fought their way slowly down the multi-story building, as intermittent exchanges of fire and explosions were broadcast on Indian satellite news networks to the world. The 60-hour terror rampage across India's financial capital ended on Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen holed up in a luxury hotel engulfed in flames. The official death count stood at 195, but was expected to rise after police finish searching the rooms at the landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Five of the Chabad House victims had been named by press time as Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who ran the Chabad House; kashrut supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a US citizen who lived in Jerusalem; Bentzion Chroman, an American-Israeli from Bat-Yam; and Yocheved Orpaz, of Givatayim, who had arrived in India to visit her daughter and two grandchildren. A sixth victim is a Mexican Jewish woman. Israeli officials are waiting for DNA tests on some of the bodies to be completed. The Israel Police will send out a crime scene investigation team to Mumbai on Sunday morning to assist in the identification process, a police spokesman said. The team will join the six ZAKA rescue and recovery workers who are already there. The forensics team will fly on a military transport aircraft, which will also be used to fly bodies back to Israel for burial. Speaking from the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, Foreign Ministry official Haim Hoshen told the Post on Saturday that there was no doubt the Chabad House was the target of a premeditated and planned assault. Hoshen was staying at the nearby Oberoi Hotel when the building came under attack, and described hearing a number of powerful explosions go off around him as he attended a reception. There were unconfirmed reports suggesting that Chabad officials tried to negotiate with the terrorists inside the Chabad House, in several calls to Holtzberg's mobile phone - presumably after the victims had been killed. On Friday, Hoshen described how Indian counter-terrorist forces held "tactical breaks" in their raid, during which they armed themselves with heavier weapons as they worked their way down the building's floors, eventually isolating the gunmen on the ground floor. Reports suggest that two or three gunmen were involved in the Chabad House attack. On Friday, the Israeli Consulate confirmed that four Israelis were among the group of hostages rescued by Indian special forces from the Oberoi hotel on Friday. Two of the freed Israelis, businessmen Yossi Veingratten and Ephraim Zamir, touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday night. The two described their dramatic rescue by Indian security forces, before Zamir broke down in tears as he recounted the ordeal. Both said they had been advised to barricade themselves in their rooms as gunfire and explosions raged across the hotel. Veingratten said he had plenty to eat because he had brought kosher food with him. Zamir marveled with relief that "all those gunman" couldn't get "one little Iraqi Jew." The Foreign Ministry said four Israelis in Mumbai remained unaccounted for. The names of the missing Israelis were compiled from reports by worried family members in Israel, who say their loved ones have failed to made contact since the terrorist outrages on Mumbai began last Wednesday. "We do not know their status or whereabouts of these four. This does not necessarily mean that harm has come to them," a Foreign Ministry official said. After waiting for Shabbat to end, officials at the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai spent Saturday evening notifying family members who had arrived in India of the deaths of their loved ones. The first to be notified were Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg and his wife Yehudit, the parents of Rivka Holtzberg. In an interview for the Chabad Web site shortly before Shabbat started in Mumbai, Chabad Rabbi Dov-Ber Goldberg said he was hosting the Rosenbergs and two of the Israelis from the Oberoi hotel. "We have received instructions from the Indian police and embassy staff not to discuss our location," he said. "We are continuing to deal with all of the sorrowful events here," Hoshen said by phone from the consulate on Saturday. "We will soon go and meet a victim's family to officially inform them of what happened." Hoshen said the consulate's second major task was working with the Indian authorities to transfer the bodies to Israel for burial as soon as possible, a mission made more difficult by an Indian legal protocol which requires that the bodies of all murder victims be autopsied. Since autopsies are bitterly opposed by haredim on religious grounds, Foreign Ministry officials were negotiating with Indian officials to drop this requirement. "We are trying very hard to avoid this for the sake of the haredi family members. This is a bureaucratic obstacle. So far, we have not met refusal on the part of the Indian authorities," an Israeli official said.