Terror, Step By Step

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CST had been hit. Maharashtra’s top cops lay dead, their bodies strewn outside a hospital. Kasav and Ismail had driven around South Mumbai and now Leopold was to count its dead. The country’s financial capital was under siege. Multiple targets were being hit. Where was the police? What was their assessment? Had somebody informed the Home Ministry, the National Security Advisor, the Prime Minister?

The state was not in control, the men who had come aboard Al Kuber were.

The two who walked down the lane to Taj were going to catch up with two others who had already begun the dance of death in the up-market five star hotel. Vasant Prabhu, a Press photographer who had come to Leopold, thinking it was one more case of firing in a city accustomed to underworld duels, saw one of the terrorists entering the Taj. He followed and found Nagre Patil, a district commissioner of police (DCP), entering the hotel with a bodyguard and two security men. He recounted what he saw, “When we reached the first floor the terrorists had already started firing. We somehow managed to reach the third floor. The DCP, who had just a service revolver, was cautious and tried to peep over the wall from the third to the second floor. A gunman saw us, shouted ‘Bastards’ and opened fire. We ducked and fell on the floor and started creeping towards the staircase.’’

Dawn, at last The NSG heaves a sigh of relief as the operations end
Dawn, at last The NSG heaves a sigh of relief as the operations end Photo: Shailendra Pandey

TOO MANY targets were being hit at the same time. Also at about 9.30pm, two gunmen, one slightly plump, threw a hand grenade at the Bharat Petroleum gas station at the Colaba Causeway next to the Israeli-owned Chabad House, better known as Nariman House. Vicky Patil, who owns a sweet shop nearby, was surprised by how the two went straight for their target. “A common man would have had difficulty in finding the place, but these people knew every lane as if they had studied the entire place.” The Chabad House, run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, provided solace not just to Israelis across the world and in the country, but also to locals. On hearing the hand grenade explode, the Rabbi had called the police, but the terrorists had managed to enter Nariman House by then and took all nine of them hostage. The Rabbi’s two-year-old son, however, was lucky. His maid had taken him to safety. Investigators probing the Mumbai madness now believe that the terrorists killed the nine hostages one by one. Vicky Patil also helped bring the bodies out, and says they were totally decomposed, confirming what the NSG Director JK Dutt was to say later — the hostages were all dead before the commandos went in to engage the terrorists holed up in three different locations — Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House.

The terrorists used the minibar booze to set the hotel curtains and carpets on fire

BUT THE commandos were to arrive only an entire night after the bullets had been fired at chosen targets. The NSG had been tasked only two hours after the attack first began and they would land in Mumbai at 5am the next morning, board buses that took an hour-long journey into South Mumbai. The fire power of the terrorists was by then tested by the Marine Commandos (MARCOS), and they had to retreat after groping in the dark, stumbling over dead bodies littered in the rooms and the corridors.

The Taj had been stormed through its front entrance. The pair that walked up from Leopold barged in through a side door. The hotel management had been sensitised to the possibility of an attack and security had been beefed up — and removed due to the inconvenience caused to its guests.

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