MUMBAI, India - Doormen in white suits and black turbans greeted visitors to the Oberoi with a bow on the eve of the hotel's reopening three weeks after it was targeted in a militant rampage. Security was noticeably tighter yesterday as guards scanned bags and sniffer dogs patrolled the grounds outside.
Armed police officers stood watch among bunkers of sandbags outside the entrance to the hotel's Trident portion, where the owners said 100 rooms would reopen today, just weeks after 10 suspected Islamic militants stormed sites across India's financial capital.
Inside the Oberoi, private security guards manned all lobby entrances, passing bags through metal detectors and X-ray scanners. Journalists' ID cards were checked against a press list, and reporters and photographers were patted down by hand - a far cry from the relaxed atmosphere at the luxury Oberoi before the attacks.
Members of the banned Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba are accused of staging the attacks that killed 164 people during a three-day siege and that paralyzed much of Mumbai. Nine of the alleged gunmen were killed, and one is in police custody.
Two of the most high-profile targets were the sleek, seafront Oberoi and another luxury hotel, the majestic, 105-year-old historic Taj Mahal.
With Christmas approaching, both hotels have rushed to reopen sections to guests - with tighter security. The Taj Mahal Group said the tower wing of its hotel would reopen with a ceremony this evening.
The main areas of the Oberoi and the Taj - left in tatters after shooting sprees and a 60-hour standoff with police - are expected to remain closed for months.
The Oberoi's Trident will be outfitted with upgraded surveillance systems and new X-ray baggage scanners. All cars will be checked thoroughly, and security guards will require guests and visitors to show ID, Trident Hotels president Rattan Keswani said.
"I think all of us are concerned about a complete deterrent" to any future attacks, he said at a news conference. "We need armed presence, and we are adding to it."
The Taj, gutted by fire and destroyed by grenades, remained dark yesterday even as Christmas trees festooned with lights twinkled outside the main entrance.
The Taj had stepped up security even before the Mumbai attacks, in response to a deadly car bombing at the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, in September - primarily to prevent a similar attack. All cars underwent checks, and metal detectors were installed at all main entrances.
The gunmen, however, slipped in through a back entrance that did not have detectors, hotel officials have said.
The Mumbai attacks exposed glaring gaps in India's security and intelligence apparatus, and the investigation has heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, with New Delhi calling on Islamabad to take stronger action against the suspected masterminds of the attack.
Pakistan, which has cracked down on a charity connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba, says India must first share evidence proving the group's complicity.