Mumbai killing jolts peaceful Singapore

November 29, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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The Taj Mahal Hotel in MumbaiAFP

Lo Hwei Yen came from a country that prides itself on rigorous anti-terrorism measures.

But all the security in the city-state of Singapore meant nothing when Islamic militants stormed the Indian hotel where Lo was staying and took her hostage.

“It’s pretty unthinkable. No one expects a Singaporean to…” Lo’s younger sister, Hwei Shan, 25, was quoted as saying Saturday in The New Paper, her words trailing off.

“This is the first time a Singaporean has been a victim of a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a letter to Lo’s husband, Michael Puhaindran.

A Singaporean foreign ministry official announced late Friday that Lo, 28, had died after militants took her and others hostage at the Oberoi/Trident hotel in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai.

Local newspapers reported Saturday that Lo, a lawyer, had gone to Mumbai for just one night to attend a seminar.

“She was supposed to come back on Thursday evening,” The New Paper quoted her sister as saying.

Hwei Shan told The Straits Times that Lo called her husband at 2:00 am Thursday to say she heard gunfire and hotel staff told her to move to another floor.

At about 6:00 am, she called again to say she had been taken hostage, and was not heard from after that, the newspapers said.

Jai Sohan, consular director of Singapore’s foreign ministry, told reporters Friday night that Lo had conveyed a message from the attackers.

“The terrorists demanded that the Indian authorities refrain from storming the Oberoi hotel or else they would harm her,” Sohan said.

The demand was passed on to Indian authorities, he said, unable to give details on exactly how she died.

“Our whole family loved her,” Lo’s father-in-law, Stanley Puhaindran, told The New Paper. Puhaindran, a justice of the peace, presided over her wedding on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali last year, the paper said.

At Puhaindran’s simple home in a Singapore public housing compound, a woman told AFP on Saturday that Puhaindran could not comment.

“He’s not thinking very well,” she said, fighting back tears. “Give us some time.”

A man who answered the phone at the international law firm where Lo worked said only, “It’s all so rather difficult at the moment.”

Sohan, of the foreign ministry, said that Lo’s husband identified her body.

The Straits Times ran a large photograph of a smiling Lo on its front page.

“She’d be the kind who’d be the life of a party,” Lo’s sister told The New Paper, which dressed its front page in black, with the large headline “Cowards”.

“Suddenly, Mumbai is not that far away,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “Now, it has hit home. One among us is dead.”

The two-day assault by gunmen on luxury hotels and other targets in Mumbai left at least 195 dead, including 22 foreigners.

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