Security tight as Mumbai hotels reopen

Oberoi, Taj offer limited access after terror attacks

Workers swept debris yesterday in front of the Taj Mahal hotel, one of 10 Mumbai sites attacked last month. The Taj will open its tower wing tonight, but the main area will be closed for months. Workers swept debris yesterday in front of the Taj Mahal hotel, one of 10 Mumbai sites attacked last month. The Taj will open its tower wing tonight, but the main area will be closed for months. (Arko Datta/Reuters)
By Gautam Singh
Associated Press / December 21, 2008
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MUMBAI, India - Doormen in white suits and black turbans greeted visitors to the Oberoi with a bow on the eve of the hotel's reopening three weeks after it was targeted in a militant rampage. Security was noticeably tighter yesterday as guards scanned bags and search dogs patrolled the grounds.

Armed police stood watch among sandbags outside the entrance to the hotel's Trident portion, where the owners said 100 rooms would reopen today, just weeks after 10 suspected Islamic militants stormed sites across India's financial capital.

Inside the Oberoi, private security guards were stationed at all lobby entrances, passing bags through metal detectors and X-ray scanners. Journalists' ID cards were checked against a press list, and reporters and photographers were patted down - a far cry from the relaxed atmosphere at the luxury Oberoi before the attacks.

Militants from the banned Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba are accused of staging the attacks that killed 164 people over a three-day siege and paralyzed much of Mumbai. Nine of the alleged gunmen were killed, and one is in police custody.

Two of the most high-profile targets were the sleek, oceanfront Oberoi and another luxury hotel, the 105-year-old Taj Mahal Palace and Tower.

With Christmas approaching, both hotels have rushed to reopen sections to guests - with tighter security. The Taj Mahal Group said the tower wing of its hotel would reopen with a ceremony this evening.

The main areas of the Oberoi and the Taj - left in tatters after shooting sprees and a 60-hour standoff with police - are expected to remain closed for months.

The Oberoi's Trident will be outfitted with upgraded surveillance systems and new X-ray baggage scanners. All cars will be checked thoroughly, and security guards will require guests and visitors to show identification, said Rattan Keswani, president of Trident Hotels.

"I think all of us are concerned about a complete deterrent" to any future attacks, he said at a news conference.

The Taj, gutted by fire and destroyed by grenades, remained dark yesterday even as Christmas trees festooned with lights twinkled outside the main entrance.

"We dedicate our reopening to the city of Mumbai as affirmation of the values of courage, resilience, and dignity," Raymond Bickson, chief executive of the Taj owner, Indian Hotels Co., said earlier this month.

Interpol's chief, Ronald K. Noble, met yesterday in New Delhi with India's minister of home affairs, Palaniappan Chidambaram, to discuss global cooperation in the investigation, which is continuing.

The Taj had stepped up security even before the Mumbai attacks, in response to a deadly car bombing at the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, in September. All cars underwent checks, and metal detectors were installed at all main entrances.

The gunmen, however, slipped in through a back entrance that did not have detectors, hotel officials have said.

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