6 Canadians still missing in wake of Mumbai attacks

Six Canadians are missing, possibly in hiding or even being held hostage, more than a day after gunmen staged a series of deadly attacks across India's financial capital of Mumbai.
Armed security personnel wait outside the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai on Thursday. ((Gurinder Osan/Associated Press))

Six Canadians are missing, possibly in hiding or even being held hostage, more than a day after gunmen staged a series of deadly attacks across India's financial capital of Mumbai.

The federal government has confirmed that at least two Canadians are among the more than 300 people injured in the assaults, which have left at least 119 others dead.

The six missing Canadians, however, remain unaccounted for, a government source told CBC News on condition of anonymity. Reports suggest they may be inside the Trident-Oberoi Hotel, one of two luxury hotels that were among 10 sites targeted in co-ordinated gun and grenade strikes beginning late Wednesday.

By late Thursday, Indian commandos had regained control of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and freed hostages being held there. An unknown number of gunmen were still inside the Oberoi with several dozen hostages, according to a state official.

It's unclear whether the Canadians are being held hostage or are hiding somewhere, if in fact they are inside the hotel.


Seeking relatives?

Canadians looking for information on relatives in Mumbai can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs at 1-800-387-3124 from inside Canada or call 613-996-8885 collect from other countries.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon confirmed earlier Thursday that a number of Canadians were at the hotels, but did not reveal their status.

"We have been able to confirm that two Canadians have been injured," Cannon said.

"Consular officials in Mumbai and Ottawa are providing all possible assistance to the victims and their families."

Voice actor, yoga instructor wounded

Montreal voice actor Michael Rudder, a past Genie Award nominee who was visiting India with a U.S. meditation group, was one of the two wounded.

When militants stormed one of the city's hotels, he suffered three gunshot wounds, but has since undergone surgery and is recovering in the critical care wing of a Mumbai hospital. Helen Connolly of Markham, Ont., just outside Toronto, a yoga instructor, was grazed by a bullet.

Montreal actor Michael Rudder is recovering from three bullet wounds received during the Mumbai attacks. ((Jonathan Clark/Agence Reisler Talent))

Two Kelowna, B.C., residents — Larry and Bernie Koftinoff — were at one point trapped on the 16th floor of the 333-room Oberoi Hotel, waiting for authorities to rescue them.

"I guess a few people from their group got shot but they were up in their room; they just blockaded the door," said their daughter, Maya Koftinoff.

She said her parents have since left the hotel and are seeking refuge in a nearby temple.

Cannon said part of the challenge in locating Canadians is that many do not register with government agencies if they are visiting India for tourism or business purposes.

"Given that many Canadians are not registered, consular staff are requesting emergency co-ordinators follow up with any Canadians they know to be in Mumbai."

The government has set up an internal crisis team, officials said.

India's Deputy Home Secretary Bitin Srimali told the Associated Press Thursday that among the foreigners held captive were Americans, Britons, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders, Spaniards, Turks, a Singaporean and Israelis.

Among the dead were at least one Australian, a Japanese and a British national, said Pradeep Indulkar, a senior government official of Maharashtra state, whose capital is Mumbai. A German and an Italian were also killed, according to the foreign ministries in the two countries.

Shashisekhar Madhukar Gavai, India's high commissioner to Canada, said it's unclear how many people are still inside the hotels but that security forces are "moving very cautiously."

"I would like to assure everyone that the security forces are extremely conscious of the fact that they need to avoid collateral damage and that's why the operation has taken as long as it has," he told CBC News.

Luxury hotel transformed into war zone: witness

Meanwhile, Canadians relayed their harrowing tales of how they escaped when gunmen descended on the two hotels, widely popular with tourists and among India's most famous.

Police officers inspect a car after they shot dead two suspected gunmen in Mumbai late Wednesday night. ((Associated Press))

Raynor Burke of Newfoundland and Labrador was in the lobby of the Taj Mahal hotel shortly after arriving in Mumbai when pandemonium broke out.

At first he dismissed the shots ringing out as firecrackers, but then saw young men in black T-shirts firing automatic weapons into the crowds.

"They were literally just emptying round after round into a crowd of people."

Burke fled to the swimming pool area only to find more gunmen shooting people, mostly women, and trying to corral guests.

"It went from being the nicest hotel I had ever seen to a war zone," said Burke. He then ran up a stairwell behind a police officer, but lost him and then dove through a glass window.

"I have no idea how high it was, to be quite honest," said Burke. "I mean, at that point, I was already full of blood. I had fallen once by the swimming pool and the pool — there was blood everywhere."

Burke said he hid out in an alleyway for an hour and a half as the shooting and explosions continued in the 565-room luxury hotel.

Panic as guests flee

Another Canadian, Manuela Testolini, the ex-wife of the musician Prince, was in Mumbai for business and said she was eating dinner at the Trident-Oberoi Hotel when she heard gunshots.

Testolini and her colleague left all their belongings behind when they spotted gunmen shooting outside the glass doors of the hotel restaurant and ran toward the ballroom with other guests.

The group spent two hours huddled in the dark as gunfire and grenades went off outside the room. They were eventually led outside through a fire escape.

"We thought we were OK because we were away from the hotel, and then again we heard gunfire and we heard grenades and there was a lot of panic — people running, people getting trampled," she said.

Late Thursday, Daniel Gautreau of Vancouver described the scene from his hotel window several blocks away as security forces struggled to take control of the situation at the Taj Mahal hotel.

He said gunfire continued for much of the day and someone lobbed a grenade at a fire truck trying to douse flames.

"We've been told not to leave our hotel. It's been suggested it's best to stay in the hotel," he said.

Gautreau said the streets were completely deserted in the usually bustling city. "To see the streets deserted is quite strange," he said.

Travel advisory for Mumbai

Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned the attacks in Mumbai that targeted people from India and around the world.

He said the government is working closely with Indian authorities to track down any Canadians and their families affected by the attacks.

Speaking in the House of Commons Thursday afternoon, Harper said he phoned officials in India to express Canada's condolences.

"We join the entire world in expressing our outrage against this kind of unforgivable hatred, brutality and violence," Harper said.

He said the Foreign Affairs Department is doing all it can to help Canadians affected by the attacks. The government is advising Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Mumbai until the situation stabilizes.

With files from Reuters, the Associated Press