LONDON (AFP) - World leaders expressed anger and horror Thursday after the militant attacks in Mumbai left over 125 people dead and fears grew Westerners could be singled out in a hostage crisis.
While Indian army commandos battled gunmen at two luxury hotels and other targets in India's financial hub, European governments reportedly made plans to evacuate their nationals. Many foreigners were also among killed and wounded people. Guests who escaped the hotels recounted how the gunmen had specifically tried to round up US and British citizens.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh a message assuring that "the UK stands solidly with his govt as they respond, and to offer all necessary help.
"These outrageous attacks in Mumbai will be met with a vigorous response," he said.
President George W Bush called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday to convey his sympathy for the victims of the "despicable" attacks in Mumbai and offer US help, the White House said.
"President Bush spoke this morning by telephone with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to express condolences to the victims of the terror attacks in Mumbai, India, and solidarity with the people of India," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.
"The president offered support and assistance to the government of India as it works to restore order, provide safety to its people and comfort to the victims and their families, and investigate these despicable acts," she said. The US administration said it was closely following events in Mumbai after the militant attacks left more than 100 people dead, amid growing fears over foreign hostages.
US president-elect Barack Obama condemned the attacks and said the United States must work to strengthen ties with India and other nations to "root out and destroy terrorist networks." "These coordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism," Obama's chief national security spokesperson, Brooke Anderson, said in a statement.
The US State Department condemned the attacks as "horrific," and said it was monitoring the situation closely.
Canada's prime minister strongly condemned the "despicable and cowardly" attacks in Mumbai, including on hotels where Canadians were staying. "Canada condemns in the strongest terms the despicable and cowardly attacks in Mumbai, India.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said: "Terrorists are especially challenging South Asia. A vigorous response to counter these terrorist challenges requires an even more intensified regional cooperation and coordination in all aspects."
The "attack in Mumbai once again reminds us of the brutality of the terrorists and the grave threat of terrorism that the entire humanity faces," Karzai said in a statement. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer blasted the "despicable" raids.
"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the mindless and indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Attacking innocent people, tourists, and patients in hospitals is despicable and cowardly," he said in a statement.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the violence was "totally unacceptable". The European Union expressed "horror and indignation" after European parliament members were caught up in the carnage.
Spain could send a plane to bring out Spanish nationals and there was a European "initiative" to send a jet to fly out all other Europeans, Spain's consul in Mumbai told Spanish radio.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday condemned the "cowardly and hateful" attacks. He wrote to Singh to express France's "total solidarity" with the Indian leadership.
"I condemn in the strongest terms the blind violence that has hit your country through this series of cowardly and hateful terrorist acts," he wrote in the letter released by his office.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, visiting Venezuela, said the attacks damaged "the whole world order" and "represent a challenge to humanity."
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sent a telegram to Singh saying Beijing "firmly opposes all forms of terrorism." Pope Benedict XVI made an urgent appeal "for an end to all acts of terrorism" in a message to Mumbai's Roman Catholic archbishop. The Vatican spokesman described the attacks as "tragic and frightening."
Gulf states also came out strongly against the attacks. "The UAE condemns this horrible crime and affirms its full solidarity with the Indian government," said United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.