Mumbai Anatomy a Siege: 3 Days of Terror

 

 
 
 

| Monday, December 1, 2008


MUMBAI, India -- It took just 10 young men armed with rifles and grenades to terrorize this city of 18 million and turn its postcard-perfect icons into battlefields until security forces ended one of the deadliest attacks in India's history early yesterday.

After the final siege at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, adoring crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven commandos dressed in black fatigues, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. One of the commandos said he had been awake for nearly 60 hours since the assault began Wednesday.

The bloody rampage carried out by suspected Muslim militants at 10 sites across Mumbai, the nation's financial capital formerly known as Bombay, killed at least 195 people and wounded 295. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans.

Orange flames and dark smoke engulfed the Taj Mahal after dawn yesterday as Indian forces killed the last three militants with grenades and gunfire.

A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen - a name suggesting origins inside India - has claimed responsibility.

Yesterday, officials said they believed that just 10 gunmen had taken part in the attacks. The sole survivor, identified as a Pakistani national, Mohammad Ajmal Qasam, was being interrogated, officials said.

The gunmen were as brazen as they were well trained, using sophisticated weapons, GPS technology and mobile and satellite phones to communicate, authorities said.

By last night the death toll, at 195, made it the country's deadliest attack since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. Officials said fatalities from the three days of carnage were likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.

Here is a reconstruction of last week's terror in Mumbai:

Wednesday, 9:21 p.m., the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Two young men enter Mumbai's main railway station near the taxi stand. One wears khaki cargo pants and a blue T-shirt. A pair of small knapsacks are slung over a shoulder.

Sebastian D'Souza hears the gunfire from his office across the street at the Mumbai Mirror tabloid. He follows the sound through the sprawling station, slipping unseen through parked trains. When he first catches sight of the young men, he doesn't realize they are the gunmen. They look so innocent. Then he sees them shooting. "They were firing from their hips. Very professional. Very cool," says D'Souza, the newspaper's photo editor. For more than 45 minutes he follows as they move from platform to platform shooting and throwing grenades.

About 9:30 p.m., Nariman House, Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. A gunshot startles the family of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and others inside the recently renovated five-story Jewish center. Someone must be lighting firecrackers, thought Sandra Samuel, a maid at the center. Then a gunman comes up the stairs. She and another employee duck into a room and hide in terror as explosions and gunshots rattle the building through the night.

Leopold Cafe and Bar. The place known as Leo's is one of the city's famous tourist restaurants. There are maybe 100 people inside when two gunmen appear in the entrances. One lobs in a grenade. Then they open fire. The assault lasts perhaps two minutes, and when it's over, at least four foreigners and three Indians are dead.

About 9:45 p.m., Taj Mahal hotel. Built more than a century ago by one of India's most powerful business families, the castle-like Taj Mahal is the crossroads of the city's elite. But two men are now spraying gunfire across the ornate lobby, with its gray marble floor and Persian carpets the size of small swimming pools.

Dalbir Bains, at dinner with friends, jokes about hearing gunfire. Quickly, though, screams fill the hotel and her laughs turn to terror. She runs upstairs and huddles under a table in a restaurant with about 50 others, desperately trying to be quiet.

9:47 p.m., Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The gunmen shoot toward a large glass-fronted restaurant. They are "firing at people waiting for the train. Luggage was spread everywhere. The place was full of blood. There were lots of people lying there dead," says manager Fongen Fernandes.

A waiting room for out-of-town trains is filled with dozens of bodies, and overall, authorities say, 53 people are killed.

The gunmen steal a truck and drive away, but shortly after one is killed by police and another, the only one taken alive, is captured. Police say he is Pakistani.

About 10 p.m., the Oberoi Hotel. Joseph Joy Pulithara, a waiter, is working in the Chinese restaurant of this modern luxurious monolith when the gunfire starts, sending diners and staff scrambling. Pulithara is shot in the leg. A woman near him is shot in the head.

The gunmen run into another restaurant and fire unrelenting bursts at the diners and waiters, says Andreina Varagona, an American meditation teacher shot in the arm and leg. At least a dozen people fall to the floor dead, including one of Varagona's friends.

"There were bodies everywhere," Varagona says. "I felt like I was in a movie."

The attackers herd dozens of survivors into a stairwell. One demands to see their IDs, saying he was looking for Americans and Britons. Then he forces them upstairs, says Alex Chamberlain, a British guest.

Chamberlain and many others throughout the hotel dash out in the chaos.

Other guests barricade themselves in their rooms.

10:35 p.m. Gunmen briefly attack a police station. A few minutes later they open fire at a hospital, then ambush a police car, killing five officers and driving away.

Thursday morning, the Oberoi. A banner hanging from a window carries a simple but wrenching plea: "Save Us." Inside, hundreds are hiding in their rooms, or being held hostage.

Lo Hoei Yen, a 28-year-old Singaporean lawyer, calls her husband, Michael, from her cell phone. She is being held captive, she tells him, and the gunmen threaten to kill her if Indian forces storm the hotel, Singapore media reports say.

Lo's body is later found on the 19th floor.

10:45 a.m., Nariman House. The Jewish center is silent, except for the wailing of a child.

Samuel, the maid, cracks open the door of her hiding place, and sees a deserted staircase. She runs upstairs one flight and finds the rabbi's 2-year-old son, Moshe, crying beside his parents and two Israeli guests who lie still on the floor. His pants are drenched with blood. She grabs the boy, bolts down the stairs and out of the building.

About 7 a.m. Friday, Nariman House. Black-clad commandos fan out on the rooftops of the evacuated buildings surrounding the Jewish center and begin laying down covering fire.

A helicopter drops toward the roof. One after another, masked commandos slither down a rope. The helicopter returns with more commandos.

Slowly, the assault team descends an outside staircase and begins clearing the building.

A small explosion erupts from the house. A few seconds later, two gunshots, a pause, then two more. For hours, a similar pattern is repeated.

Friday morning, the Oberoi. Dozens of hostages clutching passports are rushed from the hotel into waiting cars, buses and ambulances.

At 3 p.m., the government announces it has killed the two gunmen inside and taken control of the building.

The pair had killed 32 people - 22 hotel guests and 10 workers.

6:15 p.m., Nariman House. A small group of commandos appear in the street, raising their rifles in triumph. The crowd breaks through police barriers and floods the streets in celebration. Inside the building, nine people lay dead, including the rabbi and his wife.

Overnight Friday, Taj Mahal. Fighting continues at the seaside hotel. Authorities say one, perhaps two, gunmen are still inside. Explosions and gunfire ring out intermittently, intensifying at dawn. Fire, once again, streams out through broken windows, lapping at the stone sides of the building.

8:30 a.m. yesterday, Taj Mahal. After so much destruction it ends quietly. There is no announcement of victory. One minute, there are explosions inside, and a few minutes later a man walks casually out into the plaza out front - a place where soldiers in body armor had been sprinting in fear - and waves for firefighters to come put out the remaining blazes.

The Taj Mahal siege is declared over.

THE LATEST

THE TOLL

At least 195 dead, including six Americans

At least 295 injured

At least 20 of the dead were Indian security forces

THE INVESTIGATION

Soldiers scoured the massive 565-room Taj Mahal for any remaining captives and defused booby traps.

THE SUSPECTS

A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen - a name suggesting origins inside India - has claimed responsibility.

Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman, now in custody, was from Pakistan and voiced suspicions of their volatile neighbor.

Nine other attackers were killed, they said.


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Related Topics: Operations and Protcols, WMD and Terrorism

 
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