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An eyewitness account of the Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11/08.
Dinesh Hukmani is an Ex Army Officer based in Pune. A Witness to Terror is his first book.
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Mumbai was attacked on 26th November 2008 by a group of terrorists who arrived by sea into the city. This was the first time that the terrorists had chosen the sea route to attack India. These terrorists were well trained, highly motivated, well armed and in constant touch with their handlers in Pakistan. They attacked multiple locations in Mumbai almost simultaneously and then took hostages at Hotel Taj, Hotel Oberoi and Nariman House. The last terrorist could be eliminated only on the 29th of November. The attack resulted in almost five hundred casualties, of whom around three hundred were wounded. The book provides a detailed description of the events that took place those three days, with particular emphasis on eyewitness accounts of the men and women who survived to tell their tales of survival in chilling accounts of absolute terror, of death and destruction and of the pain and trauma seeing their daily lives grind to a halt and their city forced to become a battle zone.InfiltrationThe journey of the terrorists from their recruitment, indoctrination, training and infiltration is traced in this chapter. The terrorists were motivated and trained in Pakistan and were provided with marine skills to enable them to navigate by sea into Mumbai to carry out these attacks. This was in addition to the training provided to them in the use of various weapons. This was a highly trained group, having gone through various specialized training programmes of the LeT, before being sent to Mumbai to carry out these attacks. The journey of the terrorists is described in which they boarded different vessels before commandeering an Indian fishing trawler ‘Kuber’ that finally brought them to the shores of Mumbai. Navigation was carried out with the help of sophisticated GPS devices and communication was maintained with the handlers through satellite phones.As they neared the Indian shores, the terrorists had a perilously close encounter with an Indian Coast Guard vessel that was on a routine patrol. The vessel came close to the ‘Kuber’ with a sailor having a close look with binoculars. This prompted the terrorists to call their handlers and seek instructions. They were told to stay put and not to get into any confrontation. The vessel left soon, having found nothing suspicious with the ‘Kuber’, as visible from a distance. The scare was enough for the terrorists to abandon the vessel in haste. Their plans to clear their tracks by sinking the ‘Kuber’ and disposing off their navigation and communication equipment, did not materialize as a result. They hastily boarded the motorized dinghy and headed for the shore, 4 nautical miles away, leaving the ‘Kuber’ adrift in high seas with plenty of evidence on board including the route they had taken, charted and saved on the GPS device and the satellite phone with the numbers that had been called during their journey, in addition to the dead body of its Captain and many articles of day to day use.The terrorists landed in the Cuffe Parade area of Mumbai, where they were seen by many people. That is where the eyewitness accounts commence and continue through as more and more people get affected by these sea-borne terrorists, directly or indirectly. The terrorists split in different groups at Mumbai and headed for their respective targets. Two of the groups hired taxis and placed bombs in these taxis that exploded some time later. One of the bombs exploded near the Mumbai airport, which has been described in graphic detail by some eyewitnesses present on the scene.The following chapters describe the siege of Mumbai at various locations, through the accounts of eyewitnesses.Leopold CaféLeopold Café is situated very close to hotel Taj and two of the terrorists, out of the four who were to attack the Taj, got down at Leopold Café from their hired taxi with the intention of attacking unsuspecting customers at the café, that is a quite a popular spot among Indians as well as foreigners. Eyewitnesses describe how they first mingled in the crowd as customer themselves before opening fire inside the café, forcing people to flee for their lives outside on the streets. Some eyewitnesses describe how they opened fire in a methodical fashion; left to right and then in the opposite direction, ensuring there were maximum casualties. They came back to survey the damage they had done and fired again. They appeared to be after westerners in particular and targeted them specifically. One eyewitness described the two men as young with a military like posture, a clear indication that they had been trained by professionals over a long duration.The terrorists not only opened fire inside the café, but outside on the streets as well. There were many casualties as a result. Eyewitnesses speak of confusion and mayhem as many onlookers were injured. Ten people were killed by the terrorists at Leopold Café and the streets outside. These two terrorists then ran towards Hotel Taj, where two of their fellow terrorists had already started they part of the mayhem. More was to follow as these two entered the hotel from the rear, firing from their automatic weapons and lobbing grenades, killing everyone that they could lay their eyes on.Mumbai CSTMumbai CST was attacked by the leader of the terror group, Ismail and Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who was to be caught alive later that night. The duo had reached the CST in a hired taxi and placed a bomb in the taxi before getting down. This was one of the car bombs that exploded at Wadi Bunder, later that night, killing the taxi driver and a passerby. The terrorists then moved into the station building and fired indiscriminately at the unsuspecting passengers killing and wounding many. The situation is described by many who witnessed the scenes of death and mayhem that night. Many brave people confronted the terrorists in some form or another. The police personnel were no match for the terrorists, outgunned and untrained, they still fought the terrorists with antiquated weapons. A railways announcer, who kept announcing the way to let the people out of the station, saved many lives. A photographer who risked his life to take pictures of terrorists that were widely circulated the world over. The eyewitness accounts of all these people is included and presents a very lively and chilling account of the situation, on that dark desperate night as scores of people struggled to save their lives from two armed men who had no other purpose in life, except kill in the name of religion with a notion that they were targeting their enemies.The eyewitness accounts come from a diverse group of people; from passengers waiting to board their trains, from vendors at the station, from police personnel who fought the terrorists and from many other people who were present there and survived to tell their tales of death, destruction and utter disregard to human life.Cama Hospital to Girgaum ChowpattyAfter leaving Mumbai CST, the terrorists headed out looking for a building with a rooftop where they could take some hostages and call their handlers for further instructions. They reached Cama Hospital, a short distance away from Mumbai CST and forced their way inside the hospital. The terrorists killed a few people and tried to take hostages, but were unsuccessful as the doors of all the wards had been shut and barricaded by the alert staff of the hospital, and they would not open them for the screaming and abusing terrorists. There were a lot of anxious moments as the patients, almost all mothers with newborn babies, struggled to keep the babies quiet, fearing detection by the terrorists. There was a case where a baby was delivered even as the terrorists were firing outside the hospital premises.Eyewitness accounts recount the horror of the night; terrorists inside the hospital, babies forced quiet and scared people hiding from certain death. There are also various other accounts of people who came face to face with the terrorists, but survived, the hospital security guard who somehow managed to escape, the driver of the car they could not hijack, and the driver of the Skoda car they hijacked. Cama hospital is also the place where three celebrated police officers of the Mumbai Police were killed fighting the terrorists. The terrorists hijacked the police vehicle after killing these officers and drove away. Unknown to them, there was a survivor inside the vehicle, who would later narrate the entire sequence of events that led to this incident. He was also the man who would give details of the car which the terrorists used later to escape, after the police vehicle was rendered useless with a flat tyre. This information would be crucial for the capture of one of the terrorists later that night at a police barricade at Girgaum Chowpatty and the other being killed at the same spot.Hotel Oberoi-TridentThis hotel was another target of the terrorists. The account starts with the terrorists entering the hotel reception and killing the receptionists and some guests who were checking in. The father of one of the receptionists was watching television at night when he saw the news. His account sets the tone for the rest of the chapter with the worst fears of a concerned parent coming chillingly true. Like the rest of the book, this chapter too relies heavily on eyewitness accounts. Some survivors describe their tale of survival among a group of people who were massacred in cold blood by the terrorists, while their handlers in Pakistan listened to the sounds of gunfire over the phone line, kept open by the terrorists in Mumbai, to give them a live account of what was happening.There are many accounts of people stuck in their hotel rooms and how they coped with the difficult situation. These accounts make the reader understand what exactly was the ground reality and how did people cope with them. One guest who was rescued described the situation all around him with gunfire and grenade explosions not only from Hotel Oberoi-Trident but from all around. He had witnessed the sounds of gunfire and explosions from Hotel Oberoi-Trident, Hotel Taj, Nariman House, Mumbai CST, Cama hospital and along the route taken by the terrorists from Cama Hospital to Girgaum Chowpatty. He was a witness to the Siege of Mumbai, a series of events unfolding around him with chilling consequences.Hotel Oberoi-Trident is one of the two spots where both the Marine Commandos and the NSG were engaged to eliminate the terrorists. There are eyewitness accounts from the commandos who describe how they fought the terrorists in an operation made extremely challenging by the presence of many hostages with the terrorists. Despite all difficulties, the commandos were able to kill both the terrorists and secure the hotel by 3.30 pm on 28th November, though the damage done to the hotel was high, notwithstanding the loss of human lives.Nariman HouseNariman House was home to an ultra orthodox Jewish religious movement and was an important target for the terrorists. It was attacked after the attacks at Hotel Taj, Hotel Oberoi-Trident and Mumbai CST were well underway. Nariman house is located in the crowded area of Colaba in South Mumbai and apparently the terrorists had difficulty locating their target in the narrow crowded lanes, despite the detailed maps they had been shown as part of their preparations for the attack. The terrorists threw a grenade at a nearby petrol pump that caused some cars to catch fire, but did not cause the intended damage, blowing up the entire petrol pump and cause massive casualties in the crowded area.They stormed the building thereafter and took six people hostage including Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. The Rabbi, sensing trouble had already called the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai and they tried to negotiate with the terrorists through a negotiator in New York to secure the release of the hostages, which unfortunately was not successful.The terrorists, meanwhile, were firing randomly at people who would try to take a peek at Nariman House from their windows in nearby buildings, resulting in some casualties. The police then evacuated all buildings around Nariman House as a precautionary measure. Meanwhile the National Security Guards had reached the city and were deployed at Nariman House. They were dropped on the rooftops of Nariman house and nearby buildings the next day in the morning and engaged the terrorists immediately.Eyewitness accounts describe the situation at Ground Zero as the NSG commandos slithered down the MI-17 helicopter; a lot of noise, excitement in the air and a sudden long calm thereafter that was in total contrast to the actual situation at ‘War Zone Colaba’.In between the terrorists tried to surrender but their handlers persuaded them to fight on. They were eliminated only by the evening of 28th November. They had killed all their hostages before being killed themselves. The Nariman house, though liberated, was a complete mess, resembling Beirut of the Lebanese Civil war, as a foreign correspondent described what he saw, about 24 hours afterwards.The complete focus of the nation and the world had now shifted to Hotel Taj, where the terrorists were still fighting the NSG commandos and holding out.Hotel Taj MahalTwo terrorists had stormed the Taj Mahal hotel, located right next to the Gateway of India in South Mumbai, on the evening of 26th November. They stormed the hotel lobby killing anyone they could see and moved around the hotel knocking on rooms and killing people floor by floor. Soon they were joined by two more terrorists who had just been to Leopold Café. The terrorists reached the 6th floor of the Taj soon and lobbed grenades, setting the area close to the dome on fire. The picture of the fire was taken by reporters and these shocking images were circulated round the world soon.The police were on the scene but they were not able to effectively handle the situation and the terrorists were still killing and taking hostages at ease. Even as the NSG in Delhi was preparing to move to Mumbai for the operation, the Marine Commandos of the Indian Navy were summoned to take on the terrorists. They were soon on the scene and restricted the movement of the terrorists in a manner that they could not kill and take hostages the way they had been doing earlier. As the NSG arrived early next morning, the Marine Commandos left the scene leaving the task of eliminating the terrorists to their counterparts of the NSG.Eyewitness accounts point to a very chilling scenario at the Taj during the entire crisis. There were terrorists holding hostages, killing some from time to time and the hotel was filled with the sounds of gunfire, the blood of the dead and injured and the stench of gunpowder and dead bodies. Firefighters saw dead bodies floating in the water that had accumulated on the top floor of the hotel, and they had not been removed for more than a day. The stench of dead human flesh was unbearable.NSG commandos could observe a noticeable change in the morale of the terrorists by the afternoon of 28th November, as the siege continued. The once aggressive terrorists were now defending themselves and returning fire with single shots instead of the heavy volumes of fire earlier. By the morning of 29th November, the NSG had the terrorists cornered in a room on the ground floor. At 9 am, the last of the terrorists was seen tumbling out of a ground floor window, shot and killed by the NSG. The siege was over.Eyewitnesses provide a very graphic and chilling account of the events inside the hotel. Like the other chapters of the book, this chapter too relies heavily on eyewitness accounts and The InvestigationThe investigations commenced even as the nation witnessed the aftermath of the attacks in the form of extreme anger against the politicians. The Mumbai Police had captured a terrorist alive and he would prove to be a valuable asset in the investigations into the attack. The Mumbai police also sought custody of two terrorists, involved in another terrorist attack, from the custody of the UP Police. These terrorists would provide details on how they helped get information on the targets in Mumbai to the LeT in Pakistan, who had planned and executed these attacks. The statements of Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin, the two terrorists, would provide in detail, how they moved from Pakistan to India, how they gathered information about the likely targets and how they were in touch with the leaders of the LeT in Pakistan, as they hatched the plot of their attacks in Mumbai.Evidence would also be available to the investigators in the form of the ‘Kuber’, the trawler used by the terrorists to reach Mumbai that they had failed to sink. The Coast Guard recovered a satellite phone and a GPS device from the ‘Kuber’, evidence further pointing towards involvement of people from Pakistan. Ajmal Kasab, the only suicide attacker ever captured alive during a mission, would also be of great help to the investigators and would spell out how and where he trained and who were his mentors. He would be instrumental in establishing that it was an attack carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba that was allowed to operate freely in Pakistan, operating recruitment offices and having training centers with systematic procedures and an eye for detail.The terrorists had satellite phones and GPS devices that were used for communication while at sea and for navigating their way into Mumbai. They called some virtual numbers in Pakistan that had been obtained recently and specifically for use during the attacks. An email was sent by an unknown group calling itself the ‘Deccan Mujahideen’ from an email id created the same day from a computer in Pakistan and using a Russian email service provider.Many other facts are mentioned in this chapter that contributed to the planning and execution of these terror attacks.The Pakistan ConnectionThis part shows how the Pakistan establishment has always sought to protect the terror groups in its country and how it has manipulated its way in keeping these terror organizations alive despite international obligations to the contrary. It provides a historical perspective on how some terror groups, though banned after 9/11, have continued to operate in Pakistan under different names. It also shows how the funding for terror activities is carried out with the help of drug money and other illegal trades like fake currency being pumped into the Indian economy.Event DatabaseA reference database of the events at Mumbai, from 26th November to 29th November.--Dinesh Hukmani
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