‘Have you not heard of Babri Masjid?’ asked a terrorist before pulling the trigger
The four unexpected, unwelcome guests who arrived on the night of November 26, fired indiscriminately in the lobby, sending guests and staff scurrying. The Taj was the last site to be cleared and for a good three days, four men held the vast building with 565 rooms, hostage. They had their AKs and hand grenades with which to keep the commandos at bay. They also liberally poured booze from the minibars in the rooms onto carpets and curtains. The smoke was an effective tool to stall the advancing soldiers.
Oskari Polcho, a young 19-year-old, was one of the residents at the hotel. He was coming out of a room on the second floor when he saw the terrorist firing at anyone they could spot. Before he could grasp what was happening, he saw a gun being aimed at him. Two bullets hit him — one lodged itself in his hand and the other in his pelvis. “The terrorist thought I was dead and proceeded to the other rooms. I lay there bleeding till one of the commandos knocked at my room,’’ a shivering Polcho recounted.
200 NSG commandos spent three days neutralising just eight terrorists
Another pair had entered the Oberoi, shot at the front desk and moved to their left to Tiffin, a popular restaurant. A second volley was fired here. They then moved to Kandahar, where other guests were dining. The restaurant manager saw them coming and tried to shut open the door. They shot the door, entered the restaurant, took about 17 people hostage and forced a restaurant employee to set Kandahar on fire before ordering their hostages all the way up to the 20th floor. Somewhere in the middle of all this, one of the guests managed to call his wife to say there had been a shootout at the hotel. She regrets not telling him she loved him. That was the last time they spoke. He was one amongst those who were forced to line up against a wall in the corridor before being mowed down. Before they were killed, one of them wanted to know why they were doing this to them. Have you not heard of Babri Masjid (demolished in 1992) and have you not heard of Godhra (a reference to the 2002 carnage in Gujarat) was the cryptic reply. The terrorists, one at the head of the queue and the other at the tail, had only to press the trigger.
SUNIL KUMAR, an NSG commando who was on the second floor with Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan (later killed), was one of the first few to encounter the terrorists. He thought he had heard noises from Room 271. “They don’t sound like they are coming from civilians.’’ He was right. The door opened, a silhouette with a gun appeared, opened fire and retreated into the room. Three bullets hit him and the Major now had to escort him to safety. Major Unnikrishnan did that but lost touch with the other men in his team. He had a tiny radio in his ear and could contact his officers but to establish contact with his team mates (the commandos work in batches) he had to call out. The minute he did that, he gave his position away. A terrorist was lurking close by and it didn’t take him a minute to spot the Major. He, like Kasav and the others, had been trained for close to a year.