EXCLUSIVE: A Lubavitch official in the U.S. had spoken with one of the Indian gunman who was holding hostages at the Chabad House in Mumbai, COLlive has learned. FBI and other negotiation experts in Israel were guiding him through the process which included six phone calls. "Please help, immediately, please," a woman's voice was heard.
A Lubavitch official in the U.S. apparently made unintentional contact with one of the alleged gunmen holding hostages at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, COLlive has learned.
In trying desperately reaching his colleague Chabad Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the phone was finally answered but not by the rabbi or his wife Rivka who were held captive in Nariman House, the five-story building where the Rohr Chabad Lubavitch Center was situated.
Sources suggested that the official was Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Shliach in DC and Washington Director of American Friends of Lubavitch.
Rabbi Holtzberg was last heard from on Wednesday when he telephoned the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, saying in Hebrew, "The situation is not good." The line then went dead.
While Shemtov declined to comment to COLlive about the matter, someone with knowledge of what transpired told of the following:
It appears that the alleged gunman was in reach of the mobile phone of Gabi Holtzberg.
The official (Shemtov) called it on Thursday night and was answered with a gruff "Hallo."
"Who is this?" the man asked.
"I'm a friend of some of the people you're with," the official reportedly answered.
The voice requested someone who spoke Urdu, an Indo-Aryan language.
FBI IN THE PICTURE
The Lubavitch official immediately moved to activate contacts in the situation room in the White House, the Indian Ambassador to Washington, DC, and the Israeli Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem and Washington, DC.
During this process, the official also began receiving assistance from negotiations experts in Israel and the U.S.
(FBI agents later arrived at Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY, to interview the Indian-speaking translator who got on the line to mediate between the two.)
It remains unclear if the Holtzbergs were alive at the time of the calls. Although the number was public on the internet and is known to many Israeli backpackers, employees at 770 asked journalists, including COLlive, not to call Holtzberg's mobile so as not to interrupt the communications.
During the second call, the gunman demanded to speak with a representative of the Indian government "within one hour."
The official demanded to speak to one of the captives. "Please help, immediately, please," a woman's voice was heard in an Israeli accent.
WHO'S THE TARGET?
Someone then tried to contact an official of India's police department. An attempt to reach the deputy head of the Indian anti-terror task force (the head was killed that day) succeeded, but the line was interrupted.
Getting the gunman on the line again, the Indian police officer was conferenced in but couldn't be heard by the terrorist. This was due to what appeared to be a technical problem, a source explained.
Trying to engage the gunman and at the advice of professionals, the official asked him at another phone call for his name and if he wanted something, like food.
The man gave a name (the same one he later used with a local TV station) and added "we didn't come to eat. We came to do our mission."
The communication soon stopped altogether, presumably because the battery had finally run out on the cell phone.
Upon arriving at the site of the massacre, members of ZAKA disaster victim identification force found the bodies of the rabbi and his wife.
"When we entered the Chabad House, we saw a home completely ruined by hand grenades," Shuki Brif of ZAKA said. "It was a shocking sight. Prayer books and many other objects were all over the place. The body of the rabbi's wife was draped in a prayer shawl. We estimate that she died earlier, and the rabbi covered her."