Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's statement on Mumbai

Overnight in the Indian city of Mumbai there have been a series of coordinated attacks on up to 10 hotels, train stations and other public places. It is unclear at this stage who is responsible for these attacks, although one organisation has claimed responsibility. The Australian government unreservedly condemns the atrocious attacks on innocent people in Mumbai, whoever has carried out those attacks.

As we speak, these events continue to unfold, but we understand that up to 80 people have been killed and some 250 injured. Our sympathy and condolences go to the victims and to their families. Attackers may still be in the hotels, and there are reports that hostages have been taken.

The government is seeking to confirm as a matter of urgency the safety and welfare of Australians who may be affected. We have 317 Australians registered with us as being in Mumbai. There are likely to be more than that. Our consular staff are currently attempting to contact all the Australians who are registered. At least two Australians have been injured, and our thoughts are with them and their families. I am advised that Australian casualties may rise.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been in contact with the families of those who have been known to be injured so far and with their families in Australia and is providing consular assistance on the ground in Mumbai. Australians who are concerned about the welfare of loved ones can contact a hotline that has been established by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The number of the consular hotline is 1800 002 214. I have just now spoken to the Australian High Commissioner to India, who is in Mumbai and leading the government’s response. Officials from the Australian Consulate-General in Mumbai and the Australian High Commission in New Delhi are checking with local authorities and hotel owners to determine exactly how many Australians may have been caught up in these incidents.

The group that has claimed responsibility for this attack calls itself the Deccan Mujahideen. Together with other ministers, I have just attended a meeting of the National Security Committee of the cabinet. At this stage, little is known about this group—at least, a group using that name. But whichever group has perpetrated this attack, they are cowards—absolute cowards—and murderers.

It is likely to take some time to identify all the perpetrators. This cowardly attack on India’s stability, peace and democracy reminds us all that international terrorism is far from defeated and that we must all maintain our vigilance. We have to continue to work closely with our allies and partners around the world to defeat terrorism.

In the light of this attack, we have today reissued our travel advice for India. The advice says that Australians should avoid travel to Mumbai at this time. I would encourage all Australians to read the advice carefully. We are offering, through the Australian Federal Police, assistance with counterterrorism and forensics policing to the Indian authorities and any other assistance which may be of direct relevance at this critical time. We stand ready to assist India in any way it needs right now.

This latest attack on Indian peace, stability and democracy reminds us again of the need to remain forever vigilant. I remind all honourable members of this: this is an unfolding event; it is a serious incident, and it is therefore of deep concern and distress to all Australian families who have members of their families in India and/or in Mumbai at this time.

I would join with all members in offering our thoughts and prayers at this time, given the great uncertainties which continue.
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