Close Call for MEPs Europe Strongly Condemns Attacks

European officials strongly condemned the attacks in Mumbai. Three members of European Parliament were among those trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel. They escaped unscathed, but will return to Brussels with harrowing memories.

On Thursday morning, officials from the European Union and its member states strongly condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai.

"Terrorism is never justified and is no means to achieve any goal. We stand by the Indian government in its fight against terrorism," the European Commission said. The European Council, currently headed by France, said that "it joins in the mourning of the Indian nation and stands beside it during this distressing trial." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the attacked "outrageous"; German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was personally "distraught" by the news.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent her condolences to Indian prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday. "The German government sharply condemns these crimes," she wrote. "I would like to express my deeply felt sympathy to you and the citizens of your country. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families in this difficult hour."

The European voices joined a chorus of condemnation from around the world, from the US, to Australia to Japan.

Unmentioned amid the EU condolences and condemnations was the fact that at the time of the attacks three members of European Parliament had been trapped at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel, near the center of the crossfire.

Seven European parliamentarians were staying in the hotel as part of a trade delegation in advance of an upcoming summit between the EU and India. While four members of the group attended a dinner on Wednesday night, three of the politicians -- Sajjad Karim of Britain, Erika Mann of Germany and Jan Masiel of Poland -- decided to stay behind in the Taj Mahal. When the attacks began around 9:45 p.m. the three had to seek their own means of escape. Each of them has been reported to have emerged from the hotel unharmed.

"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," Karim told the Associated Press. "All of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction." He spent the next few hours holed up in the hotel's basement, unsure if it was safe to come out.

Masiel was in his room when the attacks started and watched the terrorists through a peephole in his door. "I kept the lights down and saw a group of armed men in the corridor. They were followed by four of five tourists with backpacks," he told a Polish news service. "I saw people being led out of the hotel. They could have been hostages -- but I am not sure." He used his own judgment as for when it might be safe to escape. The Polish MEP criticized the Mumbai rescue services for their poor communication.

The MEPs that attended the dinner had it considerably easier. They were told to remain at the restaurant until further notice. At 6 am, security services arrived to bring them to the French consulate.

csa -- with wire reports


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