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Remembering tragedy of 26/11 terror attacks, 175 killed, scars remain

IndiaRemembering tragedy of 26/11 terror attacks, 175 killed, scars remain

The 2008 Mumbai attacks, 26/11, were a series of terrorist attacks that took place in November 2008, 175 died, and loved ones still grieve.

As many as 166 people from 15 countries were killed in the attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, in taxis, the Leopold Cafe among other places.

This occurred when 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terrorist organization from Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four terrifying days across Mumbai where 175 people died, including nine attackers, and more than 300 were wounded.

The first events were detailed around 20:00 in Indian Standard Time (IST) on 26 November, when 10 men in inflatable speedboats arrived ashore at two locations in Colaba. They roughly told local Marathi-speaking fishermen who asked them who they were to “mind their own business” before they split up and headed two different ways. The fishermen’s informed the police department of these men but received no response and the local police failed to act.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba then proceeded on their attacks.  Eight of the attacks occurred in South Mumbai: at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident, the Taj Palace and Tower, the Leopold Cafe, the Cama Hospital, the Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, and in a lane behind the Times of India building and St. Xavier’s College.  There was also a bomb blast at Mazagaon, in Mumbai’s port area, and in a taxi at Vile Parle. By the early morning of 28 November, all sites except for the Taj Hotel had been secured by the Mumbai Police and security forces.

On 29 November, India’s National Security Guards (NSG) conducted Operation Black Tornado to flush out the remaining attackers; it ended in the death of the last remaining attackers at the Taj Hotel and ended the attacks.

During the attack, the terrorists used satellite phones and cell phones to talk to each other as well as their handlers that were based in Pakistan. In transcripts intercepted by Indian authorities between the attackers and their handlers, the handlers provided the attackers with encouragement, tactical advice, and information gained from media coverage. The attackers used both personal cell phones and those obtained from their victims to communicate with each other and the news media.

Although the attackers were emboldened to murder the hostages, the attackers were in communication with the news media via cell phones to make demands in return for the release of hostages. This was believed to be done in order to further confuse Indian authorities that they were dealing with primarily a hostage situation.

Ajmal Kasab, was the sole surviving attacker and said that the attackers were members of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, among others.  The Government of India stated that the attackers came from Pakistan, and their controllers were in Pakistan.  Pakistan later confirmed that the sole surviving perpetrator of the attacks was a Pakistani citizen.  On 9 April 2015, the foremost ringleader of the attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, was released on bail and disappeared; he was arrested again in Lahore on 2 January 2021. In 2018, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hinted that the Pakistani government played a role in the 2008 Mumbai attack.

The attacks, which drew extensive global condemnation, began on Wednesday 26 November and lasted until Saturday 29 November 2008.

Cause of Terror Attacks:  Psychological indoctrination of extreme Islamist Jihadi concepts, including inculcation of intense mental imagery of atrocities suffered by Muslims in India, Chechnya, Palestine, and across the globe triggers terrorist attacks.  It is an act of a revenge cycle that never outgrows itself.

The Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), aka Lashkar-e-Taiba whose mastermind was Hafiz Saeed, was believed to have plotted the 26/11 attacks

Ajmal Amir Kasab, was caught and was sentenced to death at Yerwada Central Jail in Pune in 2012.

The Attack:

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus was attacked by two gunmen, Ismail Khan and Ajmal Kasab and the attacks began around 21:30 when the two men entered the passenger hall and opened fire using AK-47 rifles. The attackers killed 58 people and injured 104 others, their assault ending at about 22:45. Security forces and emergency services hurried in soon.  Announcements by a railway announcer, Vishnu Dattaram Zende, alerted passengers to leave the station and this saved many lives. The two gunmen bolted from the scene and fired at pedestrians and police officers in the streets, killing eight police officers. The attackers passed a police station. Knowing that they were outgunned against the heavily armed terrorists, the police officers at the station, instead of confronting the terrorists, decided to switch off the lights and secure the gates.

The attackers then headed towards Cama Hospital with the intention of killing patients, but the hospital staff locked all of the patient wards. A team of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad led by police chief Hemant Karkare searched the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and then left in pursuit of Kasab and Khan. Kasab and Khan opened fire on the vehicle in a lane next to the hospital, and received return fire in response. Karkare, Vijay Salaskar, Ashok Kamte and one of their officers were killed. The only survivor, Constable Arun Jadhav, was severely wounded.

Kasab and Khan grabbed a police vehicle but later fled and seized a passenger car instead. They then ran into a police roadblock, which had been set up after Jadhav radioed for help.  A gun battle then followed in which Khan was killed and Kasab was wounded. After a struggle, Kasab was arrested. A police officer, Tukaram Omble, was also killed when he tried to disarm Kasab by wrestling his weapon away from him.

The Leopold Cafe:

The Leopold Cafe is a popular restaurant and bar on Colaba Causeway in South Mumbai, was one of the first sites to be attacked.  Two attackers, Shoaib alias Soheb and Nazir alias Abu Umer, fired the cafe on the evening of 26 November between 21:30 and 21:48, killing 10 people (including some foreigners) and injuring many more.

Bomb blasts in taxis
There were two explosions in taxis caused by timer bombs. The first one occurred at 22:40 at Vile Parle, killing the driver and a passenger. The second explosion took place at Wadi Bunder between 22:20 and 22:25. Three people, including the driver of the taxi, were killed, and about 15 others were injured.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Oberoi Trident

Two hotels, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Oberoi Trident were among the four locations targeted. Six explosions were reported at the Taj Hotel – one in the lobby, two in the elevators, three in the restaurant – and one at the Oberoi Trident. At the Taj, firefighters rescued 200 hostages from windows using ladders during the first night.

The first floor of the Taj Hotel was totally ruined.  A number of European Parliament Committee on International Trade delegates were staying in the Taj Hotel when it was attacked, but none of them were injured.

Nariman House

Front view of the Nariman House a week after the attacks
Nariman House, a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center in Colaba known as the Mumbai Chabad House, was taken over by two attackers and several residents were held hostage. Police evacuated adjacent buildings and exchanged fire with the attackers, wounding one. Local residents were told to stay inside. The attackers threw a grenade into a nearby lane, causing no casualties.

NSG commandos arrived from Delhi, and a naval helicopter took an aerial survey. During the first day, 9 hostages were rescued from the first floor. The following day, the house was stormed by NSG commandos fast-roping from helicopters onto the roof, covered by snipers positioned in nearby buildings. After a long battle, one NSG commando, Sergeant Gajender Singh Bisht, and both attackers were killed.

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg, who was six months pregnant, were murdered with four other hostages inside the house by the attackers.

According to radio transmissions picked up by Indian intelligence, the attackers “would be told by their handlers in Pakistan that the lives of Jews were worth 50 times those of non-Jews”. Injuries on some of the bodies indicated that they may have been tortured.

The NSG rescued 250 people from the Oberoi, 300 from the Taj, and 60 people (members of 12 different families) from Nariman House.  In addition, police seized a boat filled with arms and explosives anchored at Mazgaon dock off Mumbai harbor.

Pakistan Later Confirmed It was a LeT Attack 

In July 2009 Pakistani authorities confirmed that LeT plotted and financed the attacks from LeT camps in Karachi and Thatta. In November 2009, Pakistani authorities charged seven men they had arrested earlier, of planning and executing the assault.

Mumbai police department originally identified 37 suspects—including two Pakistani army officers—for their alleged involvement in the plot. All but two of the suspects, many of whom are identified only through aliases, are Pakistani.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attacks.  Pakistan promised to assist in the investigation and President Zardari promised “strong action against any Pakistani elements found involved in the attack”.

Pakistan originally denied that Pakistanis were responsible for the attacks, accusing plotters in Bangladesh and Indian criminals, a claim refuted by India and saying they needed information from India on other bombings first.

Pakistani authorities finally agreed that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani on 7 January 2009, and registered a case against three other Pakistani nationals.

The Indian government supplied evidence to Pakistan and other governments, in the form of interrogations, weapons, and call records of conversations during the attacks. In addition, Indian government officials said that the attacks were so sophisticated that they must have had official backing from Pakistani “agencies”, though Pakistan denied this.

Under US and UN pressure, Pakistan arrested a few members of Jamaat ud-Dawa and briefly put its founder under house arrest, but he was found to be free a few days later.  A year after the attacks, Mumbai police continued to complain that Pakistani authorities were not cooperating by providing information for their investigation. Meanwhile, journalists in Pakistan said security agencies were stopping them from interviewing people from Kasab’s village.  The then Home Minister P. Chidambaram said the Pakistani authorities had not shared any information about American suspects Headley and Rana, but that the FBI had been more forthcoming.

An Indian report, summarising intelligence gained from India’s interrogation of David Headley, was released in October 2010 that alleged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency (ISI) had provided support for the attacks by providing funding for surveillance missions in Mumbai.  The report included Headley’s claim that Lashkar-e-Taiba’s chief military commander, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, had close ties to the ISI and alleged that “every big action of LeT is done in close coordination with the ISI.”

In 2018, during an interview with the newspaper Dawn, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly indirectly accepted Pakistan’s involvement in not preventing the Mumbai attacks.

However, deep pain still lingers in hearts who have lost their loved ones, some of the victims of the attack have become crippled and handicapped, others still live in nightmarish memories of the terror attack.  Whenever loved ones are lost through violence, murder, and terror, the sting of memories haunts the ones left behind and cannot be wiped out with time, 13 years later, no one can forget.

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