9 Dead in Mumbai Chabad House Attack; Israel to Help Identify Bodies

Foreign Ministry: All victims in Chabad house were Jewish, at least seven were Israeli citizens.

News Agencies
Anshel Pfeffer in Mumbai
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News Agencies
Anshel Pfeffer in Mumbai

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided on Saturday evening to dispatch an Israel Air Force plane with teams of medical and forensic experts to Mumbai on Sunday to aid in the identification of victims of the terror attacks that rocked the Indian city, leaving at least 195 dead.

Israeli embassy representatives and rescue personnel have identified six of the victims killed in the assault that began Wednesday night across India's financial capital, including its Chabad center.

The Foreign Ministry said nine people - most Israelis, some dual citizens but all of them Jews - were killed in an attack on the Chabad house in Mumbai this week, part of a spectacular assault on symbols of luxury and foreign appeal across the city.

Authorities earlier on Saturday said Israel may have to fly crime-lab analysts to India for positive identification before the victims' remains can be flown to Israel for burial.

Authorities on Saturday named one of the Israeli victims as Yocheved Orpaz, 60, after her family identified her body on Saturday afternoon. Another woman was identified as a Jewish resident of Mexico, whose name has not yet been released.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement confirmed Friday evening that an Israeli-born American rabbi, Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, were among the dead.

The Holtzbergs will be flown to Israel for burial, said Rivka Holtzberg's brother, Shmulik Rosenberg. A Chabad spokesman said they likely would be buried Monday.

Two other victims from the Chabad house who have also been positively identified are Bentzion Chroman, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, and Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a U.S. citizen who lived in Jerusalem.

The carnage began Wednesday at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes - the Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals.

By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll was likely to rise as more bodies are found in the hotels.

Indian commandos ended the three-day rampage on Saturday after storming Mumbai's best-known hotel, the Taj Mahal.

A difficult spectacle

Barak told Channel 1 Television on Friday that the bodies of two women and three men had been found at the Chabad center, one of 10 targets attacked by suspected Muslim terrorists across Mumbai. The body of a third woman was found later in the building.

Barak added that some of the bodies had been tied up, and that two women had been killed many hours before. "All in all, it was a difficult spectacle," he said.

The defense minister said without elaborating that the roots of the attack were in India, but involved militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.

While acknowledging the complexity of ending the attacks across sprawling Mumbai, Barak added, "I'm not sure it had to last three days, but that's what happened."

Israel offered all manner of help to Indian officials, Barak said, including assistance "that is inappropriate to detail here."

Israel's ambasssador to India, Mark Sofer, however, consistently dismissed reports that Israeli commandos took part in the operation.

Livni, speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem, said Friday that it was no coincidence the Chabad center had been attacked.

"There is no doubt, we know, that the targets the terrorists singled out were Jewish, Israeli targets and targets identified with the West, Americans and Britons," Livni said.

"Our world is under attack, it doesn't matter whether it happens in India or somewhere else," she added. "There are Islamic extremists who don't accept our existence or Western values."

Her words echoed those of Sofer, who said earlier that out of the thousands of building in Mumbai, it was hard to believe that the terrorists had stumbled by chance upon the Jewish center.

Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg spread Jewish pride

Gavriel Holtzberg was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with his parents when he was nine. His wife, born Rivka Rosenberg, was a native of Afula.

"Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory," the Chabad's New York headquarters said in a statement.

The couple ran the Chabad's Mumbai headquarters. Their toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee on Wednesday, and is now with his maternal grandparents, who arrived from Israel on Thursday. Another son, who was ailing, was in Israel at the time of the attack.

The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small Jewish community there, running a synagogue and Torah classes, and assisting Jewish tourists in the seaside city.

"Gabi and Rivki Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, said in a statement.

"As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivki gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists."

Chabad had first raised the alarm Wednesday night, when attacks began in Mumbai, saying it had failed to make contact with the rabbi. Hundreds were also wounded in the attacks, which appeared to target locations popular with foreigners.



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