Monday, December 01, 2008
India Security Faulted as Survivors Tell of Terror
At Tourist Haunts and Train Station, Swiftly Launched Assault Overwhelmed Police; Home Affairs Minister Steps Down By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, GEETA ANAND, PETER WONACOTT and MATTHEW ROSENBERG-- As waiters started setting dinner buffets in Mumbai's luxurious hotels, the killings that would ravage this Indian metropolis began out of sight, in the muddy waters of the Arabian Sea. In the dusk hours of Wednesday, fisherman Chandrakant Tare was sailing his boat about 100 yards from a fishing trawler when he spotted young men killing a sailor on board. He says he saw them toss the body into the engine room. Assuming he had stumbled upon pirates, Mr. Tare says, he sped away. Hours later, at least 10 terrorists, having arrived by small craft on the shores of Mumbai, began to sow death and destruction at will across India's financial capital. View Full Image European Pressphoto Agency AFTERMATH: Cafe Leopold was the first scene of trouble. Pieced together from interviews with dozens of witnesses and officials, this account of the three days of the battle for Mumbai shows just how a small but ruthless group of skilled militants, attacking multiple targets in quick succession, managed to bring one of the world's largest cities to its knees. The human toll -- currently at 174 fatalities, including nine terrorists -- was exacerbated by the Indian authorities' lack of preparedness for such a major attack. But the chain of events also points to just how vulnerable any major city can be to this type of urban warfare. Authorities are still questioning the one captured terrorist, a 21-year-old Pakistani named Ajmal Qasab, who they say has confessed to training with outlawed Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. The investigation remains in its very early stages, and the identities of the killed militants remain unclear. Around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, one dinghy with half a dozen young men landed at a trash-strewn fishing harbor near the southern tip of the Mumbai peninsula, witnesses say; a second arrived nearby shortly after. Mostly in their early- to mid-20s, the men came ashore wearing dark clothes and hauling heavy bags and backpacks, according to fisherman Ajay Mestry, who saw one of the landings. The group he saw split up and raced toward the shimmering city. Tracking the Terrorists View Interactive Arriving by boat, a small team of terrorists spread out across Mumbai, instilling terror in India's largest city for three days. When one young man with a bulging bag jogged up from the beach, Anita Rajendra Udayaar, the keeper of a roadside stall full of recycled plastic bottles, asked where he was heading. "Mind your own business!" he shouted back, she recalls. Mumbai's attention that night was focused on one of the country's favorite sports: cricket. India was playing against England, and beating its old colonial master. In the open-air Cafe Leopold, a popular people-watching spot near the landing site, customers -- many of them foreign backpackers -- were watching the match. At about 9:30 p.m., two gunmen with assault rifles appeared on the sidewalk, witnesses said. One stood at the entrance, the second to his left. Then they started firing. Minutes later, they walked away, leaving more than a dozen casualties behind amid upturned, bloodied tables. View Full Image Landov A shopkeeper near the Chabad House, a Jewish center attacked by the militants, cleans up. At about the same time, two other gunmen arrived at a Bharat Petroleum gas station at the corner of a small alley that leads to Chabad House, also known as Nariman House, the local headquarters of the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish movement. With its small, faded sign, the five-story Chabad House -- which served as a guesthouse and source of kosher food for the many Israeli backpackers who travel through India -- is so hard to find that most visitors ask for directions at the gas station. But the militants knew their way, a station attendant says: Without stopping, they threw a hand grenade into the gas station, and walked into the alley. Alarmed by the explosion, Chabad House's rabbi, Gavriel Holtzberg, called the Israeli consulate. The two gunmen burst into his building, taking a number of Israelis, a young Mexican Jewish woman, and the rabbi and his family hostage. It appears that they quickly shot dead one of the guests, an Israeli kosher ritual inspector, whose body would be found badly decomposed at the end of the siege. The explosion and gunfire attracted the attention of neighbors. Some young men started throwing stones toward the building. Manush Goheil, a 25-year-old tailor, stepped outside the family's shop to get a better view. His brother Harish watched from the shop as a gunman shot him dead with a well-aimed bullet fired from the Chabad House's top floor. View Full Image Associated Press Inside the center, terrorists executed hostages. Around the same time about one mile north at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai's monumental colonial-era train station, two gunmen in dark T-shirts and hauling heavy backpacks walked down Platform 13, which opens into a large hall fringed by Re-Fresh Food Plaza, a fast-food outlet. Throwing a hand grenade into the crowd of travelers, they unloaded volleys of gunfire. Bullets flew through the window where the station's manager, D.P. Chaudhari, observed the hall; he ducked down and survived. A colleague, S.K. Sharma, was cut down as he crossed the concourse. One bullet lodged in the stomach of Re-Fresh Plaza manager Mukesh Aggarwal. The gunmen peppered a bookstand at the back of the hall with bullets, shattering the glass next to a copy of "Complete Wellbeing" magazine, according to vendor Sarman Lal, who quivered on the floor saying his last prayers. The two gunmen moved along two separate paths toward the station's main entrance, firing as they walked. They met virtually no resistance, even though several dozen police officers are usually deployed at the station. "They were killing the public, and the police just ran away," says Ram Vir, a coffee vendor whose stand is near Platform 8. B.S. Sidhu, head of the Railway Protection Force for the Mumbai region, says that while some officers tried to fight back, there was little his force could do. Most police officers at the station -- as they are throughout India -- were unarmed or carried only bamboo sticks known as lathis. More than 40 people, including three police officers, were killed in just a few minutes, authorities said. The wounded survivors screamed for help amid acrid smoke, piles of slumped, bloodied bodies and spilling suitcases. By then, shooting had begun in two other spots: Mumbai's most luxurious hotels, symbols of the city's prosperity that were packed with tourists, visiting executives, and the local elite out for dinner. The historic Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and a complex housing both the Oberoi and Trident hotels rise high above the sea on opposite sides of the southern tip of Mumbai. Video In the aftermath of bloody attacks, Mumbai residents raised questions about how they could have occurred and how a handful of terrorists could hold off waves of Indian commandos. Pakistani Link Boosts TensionsAttack Coverage Tests India's MediaAttacks Linked to Pakistan GroupAttacks to Speed Business ExodusTata Chief Speaks Out After AttacksAttackers Likely Had Help Outside IndiaBush Statement: Terror Won't Have 'Final Word'Live Earth India CanceledFor the Family of Victims, a Day of WaitingA Tragic End at Chabad HouseU.S. Victims Followed Spiritual Callings to IndiaFighting Rages On at Taj Mahal HotelShaken Mumbai Tourists Return HomeFootage of the attacks from New Delhi TVAttacks Were Brutal and Well OrganizedMiddle Seat: How Will Attacks Affect Travel?Share Your Views Share your thoughts on the attacks or offer your first-person observations.More Complete Coverage: Terror in MumbaiAt about 9:45 p.m., two gunmen, slender and in their mid-20s, ran up the circular driveway at the entrance to the Trident. They shot the security guard and two bellhops. The hotel had metal detectors, but none of its security personnel carried weapons because of the difficulties in obtaining gun permits from the Indian government, according to the hotel company's chairman, P.R.S. Oberoi. The gunmen raced through the marble-floored lobby, past the grand piano into the adjoining Verandah restaurant, firing at the guests and shattering the windows. At the end of the lobby, they burst into a bar called the Opium Den, shooting dead a hotel staff member. Then they ran after a group of guests who tried to escape through a rear service area. They killed them, too. The gunmen returned to the Verandah, climbed a staircase, dashed down a corridor lined with jewelry and clothes shops, and stopped in front of the glass doors of Tiffin Restaurant, a swanky restaurant with a sushi bar in the Oberoi hotel. They killed four of six friends who live in south Mumbai and had just settled down at a table near the front door. One member of the group, a mother of two, threw herself to the ground and shut her eyes, pretending to be dead. The men circled the restaurant, firing at point blank range into anyone who moved before rushing upstairs to an Indian restaurant called Kandahar. Restaurant workers there ushered guests closest to the kitchen inside. The assailants jumped in front of another group that tried to run out the door. "Stop," they shouted in Hindi. They corralled 16 diners and led them up to the 20th floor. One man in the group dialed his wife in London and told her he'd been taken hostage but was OK. "Everybody drop your phones," one of the assailants shouted, apparently overhearing. Phones clattered to the floor as the three women and 13 men dug through their purses and pockets and obeyed. On the 20th floor, the gunmen shoved the group out of the stairwell. They lined up the 13 men and three women and lifted their weapons. "Why are you doing this to us?" a man called out. "We haven't done anything to you." "Remember Babri Masjid?" one of the gunmen shouted, referring to a 16th-century mosque built by India's first Mughal Muslim emperor and destroyed by Hindu radicals in 1992. "Remember Godhra?" the second attacker asked, a reference to the town in the Indian state of Gujarat where religious rioting that evolved into an anti-Muslim pogrom began in 2002. Where the Attacks Took Place Gunfire was reported at luxury hotels, a restaurant, police headquarters and a train station. "We are Turkish. We are Muslim," someone in the group screamed. One of the gunmen motioned for two Turks in the group to step aside. Then they pointed their weapons at the rest and squeezed the triggers. A few minutes later they walked upstairs to the terrace. Unbeknownst to the terrorists, four of the men were still alive; one of the survivors later provided the account of the shooting to The Wall Street Journal. At the vaunted Taj hotel across the peninsula, two terrorists arrived from their attack on Cafe Leopold by about 9:45 p.m., broke down a side door and entered the building, according to a police officer investigating the attacks. Two others entered the hotel's modern lobby, opened fire and threw grenades. As guests dashed for cover, the two pairs united. They would keep Indian police and commandos at bay for another 60 hours as they rampaged through the building. Uptown, the two gunmen who had attacked the train station -- recorded by the station's surveillance cameras -- reached the nearby Cama Hospital for women and children, authorities said, shooting dead two unarmed guards at the entrance and racing up the stairs. By then, news of the attacks had spread in the neighborhood. A number of policemen ran into the hospital as nurses herded expectant mothers into one room and locked themselves inside, a duty doctor says. Hotline Numbers The U.S. State Department has established a Consular Call Center for Americans concerned about family or friends who may be visiting or living in Mumbai, India. The number is (888) 407-4747.The U.K. government has set up hotlines for people worried about the safety of friends and family. The U.K. number is 44 (0)20 7008 0000. The number in India is (0091) 1124192288.On the top floor, the terrorists and the police traded fire near a poster that reads "Mother's Milk is Best for Babies." The policemen were badly outgunned. The gunmen killed one officer and escaped down the stairs, into a narrow alley that separates Cama Hospital from another hospital called GT. In the alley, the state of Maharashtra's antiterrorism chief, Hemant Karkare, sat in a police SUV packed with fellow officers, trying to coordinate a response to the mayhem engulfing the city. Creeping up, the two militants sprayed the vehicle with gunfire. The officers appear to have died before any of them had a chance to fire back. The wall and metal blinds behind the van's spot are riddled with bullets. Not a single bullet mark could be seen by a reporter in the area from which the terrorists fired. Dumping three of the officers' bodies on the ground and taking the others with them, the two militants jumped into the SUV and sped towards the Metro Big Cinemas multiplex. As they passed a crowd of journalists and onlookers, the SUV slowed down, a gun barrel emerged from the window, and bullets started to fly. Then, the vehicle sped on, with another police vehicle in hot pursuit. At one point, the gunmen ditched the SUV and hijacked a Skoda, police said, cruising through southern Mumbai -- possibly looking for an escape route. Two hours later, they ran into a large police roadblock erected on a key road leading out of south Mumbai, at Chowpatty Beach. Skidding to a halt 30 feet away from the roadblock, the Skoda's driver blinded the police with high beams and, flipping wipers, began spraying fluid on the windshield so that officers couldn't see into the car, said sub-inspector Bhaskar Kadam, one of the officers manning the roadblock. The three policemen armed with guns drew them. The nine others waved their bamboo sticks. Revving the engine, the car tried to U-turn but got stuck on the median. The man in the passenger seat rolled out and started shooting, killing one officer and wounding another. The surviving baton-wielding officers jumped on him, knocking him unconscious. Policemen with guns shot the driver dead. This pair's killing spree was over. Police later identified the gunman taken alive as Mr. Qasab, from the Punjab region of Pakistan, who they say is providing details of the plot. Back at the Taj Mahal Palace, staff members had been calling room after room, advising hundreds of guests to lock the doors, switch off all the lights, and hide, guests and staff said. At about 11 p.m., K.R. Ramamoorthy, the 69-year-old nonexecutive chairman of ING Visya Bank, heard men in the corridor knock on his sixth-floor room, he says. "Room service," one of them called out in English. Silence. "Shoe polish," the same voice called out. Mr. Ramamoorthy moved to the bathroom, accidentally banging the door. The two gunmen blasted the room door's lock open and entered. They tied Mr. Ramamoorthy's hands and feet, he says, using his long Indian top known as a kurta, and his pajama bottoms. Then they ordered him to kneel on the ground. "I'm 69 years old. I have high-blood pressure. Please let me go," he recalls begging. "We'll leave you, we'll let you go," one of the men replied, he says. They turned him over so he lay face down on the floor. Over the next hour or two, the two men spoke on their mobile phones in his room, seeming relaxed and happy, Mr. Ramamoorthy says. He couldn't tell much of what they said but made out the word "grenade" several times, he says. They ate some snacks from the minibar. Then, two more gunmen showed up in the room, dragging four other hostages -- all uniformed hotel staff. "What are your names and occupations?" the men asked the five hostages. "I am Ramamoorthy from Bangalore," Mr. Ramamoorthy says he replied. "What is your work?" one of the assailants asked in Hindi. "I am a teacher," he replied. "No way can a teacher afford to stay here," shouted the gunman, he recalls. "You better tell us the truth." "I work for a bank," Mr. Ramamoorthy admitted. The assailants were distracted by calls on their mobile phones. Minutes later, pushing the five hostages in front of them, the gunmen descended the staircase to a fifth-floor room. They shoved the hostages inside, laid them face down on the floor, and left. Mr. Ramamoorthy says he managed to free his hands and untied the others. By now, a fire possibly started by a grenade explosion was spreading through the sixth floor of the Taj hotel. As the choking smoke from the blazing fire enveloped the room, one of the four hotel staffers ripped off curtains and bedsheets, creating an improvised rope. The staffers used the rope to shimmy down the balcony outside to the third-floor ledge. Certain he didn't have the physical strength to follow suit, Mr. Ramamoorthy backtracked and descended via the smoke-filled staircase to the third floor. Some time later, he noticed the glare of searchlights. He opened the window and waved and shouted. Firefighters saw him and lifted a ladder to the window. "You are safe," he says they told him. He looked at his watch. It was 6 a.m. Thursday. As the fires set by the militants burned through the hotel during the night, the general manager, Karimbir Kang, was busy shepherding hotel residents like Mr. Ramamoorthy to safety. Mr. Kang didn't manage to rescue his own wife, Neeti, and two young children: They died in the blaze. In the other hotel complex taken over by the militants, the Oberoi-Trident, gunmen returned to the 20th floor at around 6 a.m. Thursday. They pulled out their mobile phones and filmed the sprawled bodies of executed diners. The four injured men who survived the firing line there -- one squashed under two bodies -- were still playing dead, trying not to move. "We'll booby-trap the bodies with bombs," one of the gunmen said into the phone. As soon as the two terrorists left, the four injured men crept out to a terrace and hid behind a cooling tower, says one of the men. For more than 24 hours, they didn't move from their hiding place, drinking small amounts of red liquid inside the cooling system to soothe their thirst, the man says. Authorities had asked the Mumbai-based Marine Commandos to help at the Taj in the first hours after the takeover of the hotels. But the so-called MarCos struggled to figure out the entrances and exits in the hotel and found it hard to match the gunmen who moved with ease through the building and seemed to know the structure inside out. The gunmen also were accustomed to operating in darkness, a commander on the force said. At 6.30 a.m. Thursday, commandos from India's National Security Guard finally arrived -- after they first waited for hours while authorities located a plane to pick them up at New Delhi, then waited for transportation from Mumbai's airport to the hotels under attack. The NSG commandos had proper equipment and training. They surrounded both the Taj and the Oberoi complex and a prolonged siege began. The terrorists moved frequently through both buildings to confuse their pursuers and create the impression of greater numbers. Still, two of them found time on Thursday to call a local TV station to rant about India's mistreatment of Muslims. As the fighting went on, new fires broke out at both the Taj and the Oberoi in the evening, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. "Every time the terrorists were in a corner and under stress...they set fire to the curtains," said J.K. Dutt, director general of the NSG. By Friday morning, the NSG began to achieve real progress. At roughly 9 a.m. that day, Bill Bakshi heard a knock on his 19th-floor room in the annex section of the Taj. A diabetic who was running low on insulin, he peeked through the eyehole in hope of rescue and saw three uniformed men with assault rifles, he says. "They wouldn't say who they were," says Mr. Bakshi, a 63-year-old who owns a textile company. "They were scared, too -- they didn't know who was inside, either." Mr. Bakshi opened the door. The next thing he knew, he says, he had three gun barrels thrust in his face. It took a couple minutes to convince the NSG men that he was not a terrorist, he says. By late Friday morning, the NSG cleared out the annex section of the Taj, freeing hostages there. It also succeeded in storming the Oberoi, killing one gunman in a corridor and another in a bedroom. As they combed the hotel room by room, bringing out to safety the four injured men hiding behind the cooling system, the commandos found 32 other bodies inside. At the Taj and the besieged Chabad House, the fighting continued. Two militants holed up inside the Jewish center had blown off the doors of the elevator on every floor, and used the shaft to hide whenever NSG commandos fired back. It appears that they executed their hostages one by one as the commandos closed in. Two young women guests, their wrists tied with white plastic rope, lay on the same bed, bullet holes in their heads, according to a photograph taken later at the scene. The terrorists shot Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, who fell next to each other. As darkness fell, NSG commandos blasted a wall with explosives and finally penetrated the building. They killed the gunmen. At the Taj, the battle raged into Friday night, with one of the gunmen opening fire from a window and shooting at the hundreds of journalists who gathered to cover the siege on the plaza outside. None were hit. By Saturday morning, however, the commandos had taken over most of the building. They set a fire to smoke out three surviving terrorists, cornered in a restaurant called Wasabi, up a spiral staircase from the lobby. Two of the gunmen were shot dead. The third was hit with bullets as he tumbled backwards out of a window and onto the plaza outside. "After that," said Mr. Dutt, the NSG chief, "There was no more shooting."