Mumbai will perhaps never forget the night of 26 November, 2008. It took only a few minutes for this city, known as the commercial centre and for its never-say-die spirit and a vibrant night life, to be converted into the city of death. Making their way to Mumbai from Karachi, 10 fidayeens under the cover of darkness sneaked into the city and mercilessly killed 165 innocents including a top cop from the anti-terror cell of the Mumbai police. This terrible incident not only exposed various chinks in the Indian security system, but also showed how uncaring authorities are about the lives of the common people.
In 2006, the city was ravaged by a series of bomb blasts killing about 200 people returning home in the evening in local trains. The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba fidayeens brought the city to its knees by attacking Leopold Café – a popular restaurant and bar frequented by Western tourists; the Taj and Oberoi Trident – regular haunts of the city’s glitterati and corporate bigwigs; and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – a heritage structure and one of the busiest railway stations in the world. The fidayeens’ motive was to maim the city’s spirit as voiced by Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Taj Group of Hotels, “We can be hurt, but we cannot be knocked down.”
Written by a Mumbai-based journalist, this book follows the trail of terror from Pakistan to India’s financial capital, analysing the intelligence inputs that security agencies received for over two years, compelling evidence from the sites of terror attacks, the lone captured terrorist’s concession and a frightening answer to the question on everybody’s mind – Will it happen again?
The author complains that the US government did not treat the fidayeen attacks in India the way they treated the bombings in Madrid, Bali or London. The FBI, America’s leading investigation agency, invariably maintained that the problem in India was a local one or ‘homogenous’ – what they meant was that local Muslim groups with help from Pakistan-based terror outfits were fighting the local population. They did not see it as a part of America’s war on terror.
Ten fidayeens began their journey on November 23 from Karachi in a small fishing boat. The group then boarded a Pakistani vessel ‘Al Hussain’ before hijacking an Indian trawler, ‘MV Kuber’ to cross the porous Indian border. The trawler mingled with thousands of other vessels sailing towards Mumbai. Ironically, an Indian Navy exercise was on at that time, in these very same waters, to detect infiltration. By the evening of November 26 the fidayeens had landed in Mumbai-slipping past hundreds of Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships. They made their way to their predetermined destinations and after 60 hours of terror, nine fidayeens were killed by the Indian security forces while one, Mohammad Ajmal Amir alias Kasab, from Faridkot, was captured. The Taj Mahal Hotel, which was built by industrialist Jamshetji Tata to avenge an insult by the British who would not let him enter a White-only hotel, was ravaged by a fire that could not be put out for hours. Inside the Oberoi-Trident Hotel, the fidayeens showed no mercy towards the victims. It is said that the killers laughed and joked, reminding the guess inside the hotel about the atrocities committed during the Babri structure demolition, in Jammu & Kashmir and in Gujarat. The last fidayeen was killed in the Taj after a 60-hour battle, but by then so many innocents had been killed that not only the Mumbaikars, the rest of the country will never forget.
The terror unleashed by the fidayeens teaches one lesson – “none of the corporate headquarters, financial centres, or prime properties are safe from suicide attacks,” says the author. In his view, in answer to the question if we are prepared for another attack, the author laments that none of the politicians have raised their voice against terror nor declared a war on it. The Army, NSG and the Marine commandos have gone back to their barracks and “the city is once again exposed to threats from attackers across the border.” His suggestion is that instead of blaming Pakistan for exporting terror, the Indian Government should “strive to raise barriers of entry to outsiders” if the “city of dreams” is to be protected.
Sadly too much has been written, spoken and shown in the written and electronic media about this attack on Mumbai and may not sustain the reader’s interest for long.
(Jaico Publishing House, A-2, Jash Chambers, 7-A, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai-400 001.)