BY LARRY MCSHANE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, November 30th 2008, 4:00 AM
The 60-hour Mumbai terror spree that killed at least 174 people was the brutal handiwork of just 10 Islamic militants who wanted to create a 9/11-caliber catastrophe, officials said Saturday.
The well-armed, well-trained compact crew ran amok through India's financial capital for three days, shooting up its largest train station, torching luxury hotels and turning a local Jewish center into a tomb.
They held India's highly trained Black Cat commando units at bay while orchestrating the coordinated carnage - with strikes in 10 different locations during its first two hours.
Nine of the terrorists were finally killed, the last three during a gunfight inside the landmark Taj Mahal hotel - an unlikely home for the militants' last stand.
The 105-year-old luxury hotel was damaged by fire and explosions, while the terrorists left bodies, some with grenades stuffed in their mouths, scattered through blood-spattered hallways and hotel rooms.
The hotel received a terror warning and heightened security, but then relaxed it just before the attacks, according to the chairman of the group that owns the hotel.
"It's ironic that we did have such a warning and we did have some measures," Ratan Tata of the Tata Group told CNN on Saturday. He added the terrorists "knew what they were doing" and used the less-secure back entrance.
The lone surviving militant, grilled by Indian interrogators, said the attackers wanted to create a Mumbai version of the World Trade Center attacks, according to Times Now TV.
The terrorists communicated via mobile and satellite phones and employed GPS technology during their rampage, Indian officials said.
As tensions mounted over which terrorist group was responsible for the attacks, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a rare meeting of leaders from the country's main political parties to discuss the situation today.
The death toll was expected to rise as more areas are searched, and nearly 240 people were wounded.
Brooklyn-raised Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28, were found dead inside the Chabad-Lubavitch center along with Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a former New Yorker who lives in Jerusalem.
Shaky survivors spun tales of horror as a semblance of sanity returned after three days of insane violence that brought the city to its knees.
"It felt like a war zone, like I was in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it went on for two nights and one full day," said Geeta Kapur, who cowered inside a 33rd-floor hotel room at the five-star Oberoi.
Authorities were investigating whether the terrorists used a hijacked Indian trawler to reach the seaside city. A bound corpse was discovered aboard the abandoned trawler Kuber, officials said Saturday.
The terrorists possibly used a black-and-yellow rubber dinghy to make land after ditching the trawler. The raft was discovered near the scene of the initial attack, authorities said.
President Bush, after speaking with American diplomats in India, said U.S. authorities were keeping a close watch on the volatile situation. "We pledge the full support of the United States as India investigates these attacks, brings the guilty to justice and sustains its democratic way of life," Bush said.
Mumbai clothing-store owner Suresh Thakkar, 59, said the city would emerge from its darkest hours. "What happened is disgusting," he said. "It will be harder to recover, but we will recover."
With Oren Yaniv and News Wire Services