Mumbai 26/11: An attack India would never forget or forgive

Mumbai had been attacked before but not like 26/11, in slow-motion mayhem that lasted for four days.

By Arvind Singh in Jaipur

Thirteen years later, the dark night that stretched over three long days is still vivid in the memory of India and Indians. Mumbai had been attacked before but not in such a choreographed sequence of strikes, using hand-held weapons, by 10 terrorists who had come in by sea on November 26, 2008.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists targeted various crowded locations across the city, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Hotel Trident, Nariman House, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, among others in which 166 people lost their lives in four days.

Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist captured alive, was convicted and sentenced to death. Kasab was hanged on November 21, 2012, five days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks.

The capture of Kasab and the revelations of David Coleman Headley stripped Pakistan of its classic alibi of non-state actors and exposed it completely before the world. As a mature democracy committed to justice and the constitution, Kasab was given a fair trial, a glowing tribute to the victims of the attack that shook the nation.

Politically,  26/11 proved a turning point as “macho nationalism” became mainstreamed in the national discourse. Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, traveled to Mumbai to address the media from outside the Oberoi Trident Hotel—one of the sites of the attacks—and criticized the government’s failure to prevent the attack.

BJP gave the war cry in its advertisements – “Brutal Terror Strikes at Will. Weak Government. Unwilling and Incapable. Fight Terror. Vote BJP.”

Today, India under the leadership of PM Modi looks strong at the global level and continuously develops its defense capabilities to counter regional and global challenges. On terrorism, Modi has been unforgiving and India had responded with Balakot Airstrike deep into Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019, which left around 40 soldiers dead. Contemporary India is aggressive, angry, and unhappy with the rising global terrorism and the central role Pakistan plays in the dangerous game.

The uneasy thought that India did not militarily respond to Pakistan in 2008 seems to shake the national self-respect even today. Congress leader Manish Tewari in his book ’10 Flashpoints, 20 years’, which is set to release on December 1, has talked about the Congress-led UPA government’s inaction in wake of the Mumbai terror attacks on 26 November 2008. Tewari is Congress MP from Anandpur Sahib in Punjab as well as the national spokesperson of the party.

“For a state that has no compunctions in brutally slaughtering hundreds of innocent people, restraint is not a sign of strength; it is perceived as a symbol of weakness,” he has written.

This is evidence that how deeply India was hurt due to the brazen attack of 26/11 and wounds still lacerate across the political spectrum.

Indo-Pak relationship since the 26/11 attack has been an uneasy affair. Pathankot, Uri, and Pulwama attacks have taken place but terrorists have not attacked any major civil installation after Mumbai. With PM Modi attending the swearing-in ceremony of Nawaz Sharif in May 2014 to opening up of Kartarpur Corridor in November 2019, India has wholeheartedly tried to deal with Pakistan in a mature manner. But Pakistani establishment continues to find solace from inherent contradictions of its existence, “moth-eaten” as Jinnah had termed it, in using terrorism as state policy.

Role of David Coleman Headley

A Chicago-based Pakistani-American called David Coleman Headley aka Dawood Gilani was arrested in October 2009 for planning a Mumbai-style terrorist attack in Denmark. Headley told his interrogators that he was tasked as a reconnaissance agent for LeT and undertook several trips to Mumbai over the course of three years, beginning in 2006. It was due to his reconnaissance videos and photographs that LeT was able to plan and rehearse for a precision strike. According to Headley’s testimony in a US court, he had been trained by the ISI in intelligence collection techniques.

The US government convicted Headley on US soil but refused to extradite him to India. However, the Indian investigators were later allowed to interrogate Headley.

Why India did not attack Pakistan after 26/11?

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, India acted with remarkable sobriety and restraint despite immense pressure to retaliate.

“Let’s consider what might have happened had India attacked Pakistan. Most immediately, the fact of a terrorist attack from Pakistan on India with official involvement on the Pakistan side would have been obscured. Instead, as far as the world was concerned, the incident would have become just another India-Pakistan dispute….Faced with a dispute between two traditional rivals, the world’s default response is to call for peace and to split the blame and credit 50:50 in the name of fairness or even-handedness. This was just what the Pakistan Army wanted,” Shiv Shankar Menon wrote on November 22, 2016, in The Mint.

Menon was the foreign secretary at the time of the 26/11 attack and later went on the become National Security Advisor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Pakistan, under global pressure, enacted a farcical trial of LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who was involved in planning and executing the 26/11 attack. Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front organization for the terror group LeT, was recently convicted in two terror cases and was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in each case. But he continues to live freely in Bahawalpur just 150 km from the international border with India.

Saeed is designated “global terrorist” both by the United Nations and the US, which put a $10 million bounty on his head.


Timeline of the Slow-motion mayhem

November 23, 2008

The 10 heavily-armed terrorists leave Karachi, the port city in Pakistan, by boat. As they were nearing the Indian coastline, they hijack a fishing dinghy and kill four of the five-man crew. The terrorists then force the last boatman to take them to the Mumbai coast.

November 26, 2008

The terrorist switched to three inflatable speedboats and killed the fisherman. They disembarked in Cuff Parade and Badhwar Park area. Kasab and Ismail Khan entered the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and started to shoot indiscriminately. The second group blew up a gas station and entered Nariman House. Four others attacked the famous Leopold Café before proceeding to Taj Mahal Palace. Two others entered Oberoi-Trident Hotel.

At 10.30, Kasab and Ismail Khan attacked Cama Hospital where IPS officer Hemant Karkare fell to their bullets. Khan later got killed in an attempt to highjack a police vehicle while Kasab was arrested.

November 27, 2008

At midnight, fire breaks out in the Central Dome of the Taj Mahal Hotel.

A team of 200 NSG commandos reach Mumbai from New Delhi and take charge of the rescue operations in Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident hotels in the wee hours.

At 11:15 am, Nanny Sandra Samuels escapes from Nariman House carrying the 2-year-old son of Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg. Later, commandos rescued eight more hostages from Nariman House.

Forces manage to free 44 hostages from Oberoi-Trident Hotel.

November 28, 2008

Troops secure Nariman House and end the siege. Seven people are killed in the three-day siege of the building.

Gunfights and explosions continue to rock Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi-Trident. Between 35 and 40 hostages were rescued from the Oberoi-Trident Hotel.

Commandos lands at the top of Nariman House and rescues seven more hostages.

The siege officially ends at the Oberoi-Trident Hotel with around 30 people dead.

 November 29, 2008

Around 9 pm, the last terrorists are killed and the siege ends at the Taj Mahal hotel. Around 31 people are killed in the three-day siege at the hotel.

Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley

Images courtesy of (Photo: DNA India) and (Photo: OrrisaPOST)

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