The terrorists apparently just walked into the Trident and began spraying the lobby with bullets, said top Oberoi management.
With that one statement, they refuted all rumours that Oberoi or Trident staff may have been involved in the attack on the two hotels. They also added that the terrorists were not guests at the hotel. "As far as we know," said P R S Oberoi, chairman, The Oberoi Group, in a media meet, "the terrorists did not check in as guests."
The two hotels had an estimated 350 in-house guests, said S S Mukherji, vice chairman, EIH Group, which owns the Trident and Oberoi hotels. "The restaurants were nearly full in both hotels so there should have been about 150 outsiders," he said. There were, about 700 to 800 staff on duty in both hotels, added Oberoi.
"Their objective seems to have been to kill as many people as possible. Two-three people were killed in the initial minutes. Much of the glass in the lobby was broken. They then entered the restaurants and opened fire. Their object seems to have been to kill as many people as possible," said Oberoi.
The attack took place on Wednesday night; by the time hostage rescue could take place, it was Friday. One hundred and thirty-six guests were rescued from the Oberoi; 313 from the Trident. Four resident guests (three of whom were foreigners and one was Indian), 18 visitors who were dining the two hotels' various restaurants and 10 staff members lost their lives.
"It looks like a lot of the deaths took place in the first hour itself," said Mukerji.
The diners at the Tiffin restaurant seemed to have borne the initial brunt; there were quite a few deaths here including actor Ashish Chaudhary's sister, Monika and her husband. Four diners from the Kandahar were taken hostage; it looked like they were later taken to the terrace where they were shot dead. The international hostages included on Japanese, three Americans and a lady from Singapore, said Rattan Keswani, president,
Mukherji added that they did not know the total number of guests who were taken hostage. "The hotels were taken over by the terrorists; it was given back to us by the NSG. What happened in the interim is something we can only conjecture. We don't really know."
Among the staff, those who succumbed to the bullets included bellboys, 2 security guards, system executives and those serving the restaurants. Of the four staff who were injured, two have been discharged after treatment, while two were still in hospital.
Oberoi was all praise for the staff who, he said, did their utmost to protect the guests. In fact, the hotel's security went in with the armed forces to aid them with the layout.
The two terrorists who took over the hotels have both been killed in the battle with the security forces. "As far as we know, two of the bodies have been identified as those of the terrorists. One of the bodies was in a room; the other in a corridor." He also said the terrorists seemed to have recced the hotel well and were familiar with the layout.
Though the Trident has been sanitized and handed over, the Oberoi is still in the hands of the NSG. It is believed there are still some explosives in the hotel and the top management has not been allowed to visit to assess the damage.
This morning, a bomb disposal unit was working at sanitizing the hotel. Though there has been no structural damage to the hotels, the Oberoi seems to have suffered the brunt of the attack. "If you are looking at a specific target," said Mukerji, "it looks like the Oberoi was the target."
"We are still assessing the situation and it will be difficult to put a figure to the damage right now," Mukherji added. "We have not yet been able to go into the Oberoi, but it does look like the Trident will be easier to start."
Saying that the hospitality industry was bound to be negatively affected by what had happened, Oberoi said, "Our government is reactive, not proactive. We need the latter more. There is a limit to how much individual hotels can secure their property. The concept of hospitality will change in this country if the government does not act."