MUMBAI, India, (AP) – With corpses still being pulled from a once-besieged hotel, India’s top security official resigned Sunday as the government struggled under growing accusations of security failures following terror attacks that killed 174 people.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who has become highly unpopular during a long series of terror attacks across India, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who accepted it, according to the president’s office.
The Cabinet reshuffle comes as a chorus of criticism about the government’s handling of the Mumbai attacks grows louder.
“Our Politicians Fiddle as Innocents Die,” read a headline Sunday in the Times of India newspaper.
A day after the siege ended, authorities were still removing victims bodies from the ritzy Taj Mahal hotel, where three suspected Muslim militants made a last stand before Indian commandos killed them in a blaze of gunfire and explosions.
On Sunday, the waterfront landmark, popular among foreign tourists and Indian high society, was surrounded by metal barricades, its shattered windows boarded over. At the iconic Gateway of India basalt arch nearby, a shrine of candles, flowers and messages commemorated victims.
“We have been to two funerals already,” Mumbai resident Karin Dutta said as she placed a small bouquet of white flowers for several friends killed in the hotel. “We’re going to another one now.”
The rampage was carried out by gunmen at 10 sites across Mumbai starting Wednesday night. At least 239 were wounded.
One site, the Cafe Leopold, a famous tourist restaurant and the scene of one of the first attacks, opened Sunday for the first time since the mayhem — but police asked it to close just minutes later because they said the eatery needed permission first.
Mirrors, doors and paneling were riddled with bullet holes from the assault that killed seven people there.
“I want them (the attackers) to feel we have won, they have lost,” restaurant manager Farzad Jehani said of the symbolic opening. “We’re back in action.”
The death toll was revised down Sunday from 195 after authorities said some bodies were counted twice, but they said it could rise again as areas of the Taj Mahal were still being searched. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans. Nine gunmen were killed.
The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.
A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen — a name suggesting origins inside India — has claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 170 people. But Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman, now in custody, was from Pakistan and voiced suspicions of their neighbor.
Pakistan denied it was involved and demanded evidence.
The assaults have raised fears among U.S. officials about a possible surge in violence between Pakistan and India. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars against each other, two over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Prime Minister Singh called a rare meeting of leaders from the country’s main political parties to discuss the situation Sunday.
As officials pointed the finger at “elements in Pakistan,” public ire over the government’s actions widened.
“People are worried, but the key difference is anger,” said Rajesh Jain, chief executive officer at a brokerage firm, Pranav Securities. “Does the government have the will, the ability to tackle the dangers we face?”
But J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite commandos, brushed off criticism that his unit, which had to fly from New Delhi to Mumbai, was slow to respond to the attacks.
“There was no delay,” he told reporters Sunday.
But Patil, the former home minister, succumbed to the mounting criticism of the government’s inability to prevent repeated terrorist attacks. To replace him, Singh tapped Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has been one of the most prominent faces in the administration.
Chidambaram, 63, served as Minister of Internal Security in the 1980s under slain Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Authorities say the gunmen may have arrived in Mumbai on a trawler that was found abandoned and drifting off the coast with a bound corpse aboard a day after the attacks started.
The government suspects they then transferred to a dinghy and docked at a fishermen’s colony near the two hotels and Jewish center targeted in the assaults.
Local fishermen were suspicious of the group of young men, police inspector Dattatray Rajbhog said.
“The fishermen shouted at them and asked who they were and where they had come from. But they abused them and fled,” he said.
Suspicions in Indian media quickly settled on the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help wage its clandestine war against India in disputed Kashmir.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said some “signatures of the attack” were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaeda.
President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support for the investigation, saying the killers “will not have the final word.” FBI agents were sent to India to help with the probe.
It was the country’s deadliest terrorist act since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people.