A year later

Published : Dec 18, 2009 00:00 IST

A candle-light vigil to remember the victims of 26/11 at India Gate in New Delhi on November 26.-RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI /REUTERS

A candle-light vigil to remember the victims of 26/11 at India Gate in New Delhi on November 26.-RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI /REUTERS

MUMBAI is scarred, there is no doubt about that. The city has taken quite a battering in the past two decades communal violence, two serial bomb blasts, floods and the 26/11 terror attacks. Yet, after every incident Mumbai manages to pick up the pieces and get on with life in its resilient fashion.

It has been a year since a band of 10 terrorists unleashed a gruesome assault on Indias financial capital. The terrorists stormed two luxury hotels, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), the Jewish community centre Chabad in Nariman House, Cama and Albless Hospital, and Leopold Cafe in south Mumbai, and went on a killing spree in which 173 people died and about 300 were injured. Eleven police officers, including Anti Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamthe and senior Police Inspector Vijay Salaskar, were killed while combating them.

The stand-off between the security forces and the terrorists lasted three days, causing extensive damage in the targeted buildings. One terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was captured alive and his testimony has helped unravel a part of what seems to be a major conspiracy.

Since it is the first anniversary of the attack, it is perhaps relevant now to raise a few questions.

Obviously Mumbai has learnt a hard lesson on security. But have the citys police force and lawmakers taken adequate measures to counter terrorism? Has the investigation yielded any significant results? The trial of Kasab is coming to an end. Did he give enough information? And how have the families of the victims coped in the past year?

The attack proved that Mumbai was just not equipped to handle such a crisis. The police had neither the weapons nor the training to take on the terrorists. Once in a year we handle an automatic gun, said a police constable who was positioned at The Oberoi hotel until the National Security Guards (NSG) arrived. We had nothing compared to those men. They could wield two guns at once.

So, what exactly is Mumbai now equipped with? During the course of the year, the police have received equipment worth Rs.38 crore. This includes two rapid intervention vehicles, five troop carriers, four Sealegs amphibious vehicles and 12 all-terrain amphibious vehicles. In addition, 314 bullet-proof helmets and 97 hi-tech walkie talkies were purchased. The citys armoury contains many more modern tactical weapons bought from the United States and Switzerland. And the Coastal Police have received 12 digital video cameras and day vision binoculars. Two days before the anniversary of 26/11, Force One, a special police unit, was launched to counter urban terrorism. This unit will be stationed in Mumbai.

Then there are those who are sceptical about the security arrangements. According to one police source, there are few well-trained people who can train our forces. What is the point of having hi-tech gadgetry if people do not know how to use it?

An immediate reaction to the attack was security checks and metal detectors at public places. These have now blended into everyday life in Mumbai. The fear psychosis that spread soon after the attacks has subsided.

Investigations into the attacks are still on. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the U.S. has been assisting Indian investigators, and ostensibly Pakistan is helping too. There is international pressure on Pakistan to cooperate with India. It is becoming apparent that unless Pakistan does so, there will be gaping holes in the investigation.

While it has been proved that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant jehadi outfit based in Pakistan, is singularly responsible for the attack, much more needs to be established. Was there a local hand? Who exactly planned the attack? Were recces of the targets done?

What has been gleaned from investigations, however, is that 10 fidayeen suicide attackers came to the city via the sea route. They had hijacked a fishing boat the night before, slit the throat of its occupant, and sailed to a certain distance off the Mumbai coast, after which they got onto a rubber dinghy which they rowed into one of south Mumbais fishing colonies. They landed at about 9 p.m. on November 25, split into buddy pairs and proceeded to carry out violent attacks on four major targets and one smaller one (Leopold Cafe). There is evidence that they used GPRS tools to find their way around the city.

Of the 10, Kasab was captured alive. Coincidently, it was his face that a news photographer captured at the CST. Kasabs interrogation has revealed that the highly trained fidayeen, the cream of the crop as it were, were really foot soldiers working for the LeT. Their phone calls (leaked to the media) with their handlers, which were made via the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) method, prove that. Every move was orchestrated by the handlers.

A banker, who fortunately escaped a round of fire that killed 10 people, said he had heard one of them on the phone ask uda dho? or shall we kill them? On receiving an affirmative, they pumped bullets into a line of men and women taken hostage at The Oberoi.

The Indian police are depending on the FBI to trace the calls made to mobile phones carried by the attackers. The U.S. agency apparently has enough leverage with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to get these details. Investigators say the operation was definitely planned overseas. It involved collecting detailed intelligence, reconnoitring the places to be attacked and meticulous planning of the final attack.

An important development this October was the arrest in the U.S. of David Headley, an American of Pakistani origin, for his alleged involvement in plotting attacks against India and Denmark. Indian investigators have reason to believe that Headley and an associate, Tahawwur Rana, also from Pakistan, may have been in Mumbai to map targets. There is currently enough evidence to prove that Headley joined the LeT in 2006 and was trained by them, said a Mumbai police officer.

There is not enough proof, however, that he was instrumental in 26/11. Headleys passport says that he visited India nine times from 2006 to 2009, although he is said to have left the country much before 26/11. Rana left India on November 21, 2008, five days before the attack. A police source says this could entirely be a coincidence as many of the leads with regard to Headley and Rana are at present leading nowhere.

The only thing it confirms is that the plot goes much deeper than was initially thought, he says.

Headley, also known as Daood Gilani, while in Mumbai set up a visa agency that helped people emigrate or look for employment abroad. It may have been a front for his covert activities. He lived in an upmarket neighbourhood, ate at popular cafes and appeared to know the city well. Whether he was responsible for conducting recces or recruitment will come out in time.

On February 25, 2009, the Mumbai police filed an 11,280-page charge sheet against the perpetrators of the attack. The charge sheet categorically states that the men came from Karachi. It is the LeT that planned and executed the attack. By doing this they also debunk theories that Hemant Karkare was killed by some other groups because he was exposing information that would hurt certain powerful organisations. Additionally, it says the attack on Mumbai was part of a larger design to wage war on India. They have the names of 35 people from Pakistan who belong to the LeT and who aided and abetted in executing these attacks.

Investigations reveal that the training modules, on a graduating scale, were held in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The 10 terrorists underwent a gruelling training schedule that included training for physical fitness, swimming, weapon handling, tradecraft, battle inoculation, guerilla warfare, firing sophisticated assault weapons, use of hand grenades and rocket launchers, handling GPS and satellite phones, map reading, etc. The charge sheet says the men were so highly indoctrinated that they had no hesitation to become fidayeen, a terrorist who fights until death. Meanwhile, Kasab has been kept in a cell at the Arthur Road jail, which now resembles a fortress. His trial, which began in April 2009, is nearing completion. The death penalty is inevitable. Kasab has been given our constitutional rights and is therefore entitled to a fair trial, but under no circumstances can anyone judge him not guilty, says a lawyer following the case.

So far 265 witnesses have deposed before the court. They include members of the NSG, who had an in-camera hearing. One of the most poignant depositions was by Arun Jadhav, a wireless operator. Kasab and his partner Ismail Khan had shot Jadhav, who was in the jeep that Karkare, Kamthe and Salaskar arrived in. Assuming he was dead, the terrorists left him in the boot of the car.

Jadhav witnessed the entire killing. When defence lawyer Abbas Kasmi asked him why he did not fire back at the duo, Jadhav broke down in court saying that he wanted to but that he was so critically injured that he could not even cry out in pain. In fact, when the police found the abandoned jeep they almost shot him thinking he was a terrorist.

In his confessions, Kasab says he comes from an extremely poor family in Faridkot in Pakistan. The son of a roadside food vendor, he was lured by the LeT with promises of money that would help his family. They [LeT commanders] trained us for three months. During this time they would repeatedly tell us that we were serving God and that we would be rewarded well once our mission was over, he said. One day they told me I was ready and gave me instructions on what I had to do in Mumbai.

A few hours after the attack on the CST, the bustling railway station began operating as usual. As many as 55 people were killed here the largest number at a single target. The station now has metal detectors installed and a reasonable amount of vigilance, but with lakhs of commuters passing through every day, there is only so much that can be done, said the police officer.

The Taj and The Oberoi opened two wings, which were not badly damaged, within 25 days of the attack. They have announced that the sections that bore the brunt of the onslaught will be opened in 2010. In the immediate aftermath of the Nariman House tragedy, there was an overwhelming response from members of the Chabad Lubavitch movement to continue the work of the murdered couple, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka. According to Chabad centre sources, more than 4,000 couples volunteered to come to Mumbai. But the centre was cautious and chose to respond by functioning from an undisclosed location led by Rabbi DovBer and Cherna Goldberg, directors of the Chabad House in Goa.

While the rubble has been cleared and some amount of cleaning up has been done, most of the house has been kept as it was for the Jewish period of mourning, which is one year. The walls are pockmarked with bullets and there are gaping holes where sections of a wall were blasted open by the explosions, which were heard all over Colaba on that night 12 months ago.

For residents around Nariman House the memories are still vivid. One woman said that it was an emotional moment for her when the gate to the building was restored because it was as if the place was coming to life again. However, some, like Damyantibehn, the mother of Harish Gohil who died from a stray bullet, would like it to be pulled down.

Leopold Cafe, a landmark, opened within three days. It has left the shattered glass and bullet holes in the walls remain as a reminder of the incident.

Frontline tried to track down families that lost members during the attack. Many who died at the CST were migrants and had come from poor families. Several lost their only breadwinners. The families lived in far-flung suburbs; the government aid has either run out or is used for childrens education. Life goes on in the form of some miserable hand-to-mouth existence, say the few families interviewed.

One year after losing her husband at the CST, Rajkumari Gupta says that she has survived only because she takes one day at a time. People tell me I should be happy with the money from the government but only I know the pain of losing my husband. The money is a godsend and it is the only way that my four children can continue with their education.

Her husband, Rajkumar Gupta, sold bhel on Platform 7 at the CST. He fell to bullets fired by Kasab and his partner. Rajkumari takes on jobs from a small manufacturer of plastic hair clips and this brings in a few hundred rupees. She says that it gives her the option of staying with her children.

A daughter who lost her father at The Oberoi says that the family has tried to lead a normal life, celebrating birthdays and taking a summer vacation, because that is what he would have wanted.

Few in the city have been unaffected by the attack and the tragedy that unfolded subsequently. Whoever one speaks to has some connection to the attack. A friend or family member may have been at one of the targets, could be living in the vicinity, or could be a regular at the CST.

There has been some talk that because the affluent were affected, the reaction to the incident was greater. That does not hold much water because from all appearances it was an attack on Mumbai as a city. A point was made by targeting the affluent, but it was an assault to cripple the megapolis, which in many ways is a sitting duck.

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