Revisiting 26/11 attacks: When India’s moment of grief became an international tragedy

The official death toll recorded that 18 foreign nationals lost their lives in the attack and 22 others were injured.

Published on:November 3, 2016 12:05 pm

It was a moment of nationwide mourning with 166 lives lost and the financial capital of the country having to deal with the aftershocks of what has been the most brutal attack in its history. However, the effects of this tragedy was not just felt in India. The echoes of November 26, 2008 could be heard far and wide across the world; not just because it was another act of terrorism that global powers had been trying their best to fight against, but because foreigners were clearly a prime target of the militants.

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The official death toll recorded that 18 foreign nationals lost their lives in the attack and 25 others were injured. The foreign nationals trapped at each of the target spots included Israeli, German, American, Japanese, British, Phillipino, Italian, Omani and Chinese. According to a Guardian news report, the terrorists who broke into Oberoi Trident asked specifically for British and American tourists. The five-star property was at that point hosting a large number of foreigners as guests, including a 25-30 member group of European politicians who were in India ahead of an EU-India summit.

26/11, mumbai attacks, mumbai attacks timeline, Mumbai attacks foreigners dead, foreigners in 26/11 attacks, death toll in 26/11, death toll in mumbai attacks, Taj Mahal Hotel, Trident-Oberoi, Nariman House, chabad house, ajmal kasab The foreign nationals trapped at each of the target spots included Israeli, German, American, Japanese, British, Phillipino, Italian, Omani and Chinese. (Express Archives)

The Leopold Cafe, popular among locals, is also a favourite hangout spot for backpackers of foreign origin. Twenty-nine-year-old British national Hars Patel was on a month-long backpacking trip in India and was at the Leopold Cafe for a drink at the time of the attack. He recounted, later, the ordeal of escaping from the site with dead bodies lying all around him. German professional Benjamin M was also at Leo’s and had reached out to the German Embassy immediately following his escape.

As per police records, the terrorists had enough ammunition to kill 5,000 people and the intention was to create “an international incident with worldwide ramifications”. That the terrorists were successful in their intentions is evident from the fact that on days following the attack, every major news daily around the world had the Mumbai attacks as front page news.

26/11, mumbai attacks, mumbai attacks timeline, Mumbai attacks foreigners dead, foreigners in 26/11 attacks, death toll in 26/11, death toll in mumbai attacks, Taj Mahal Hotel, Trident-Oberoi, Nariman House, chabad house, ajmal kasab On days following the attack, every major news daily around the world had the Mumbai attacks as front page news.

Part of the intention was also to sour relations and build mistrust between India and the rest of the world. According to the New York Times, “the attacks seem likely to sour relations, fuel distrust and hamper, at least for now, America’s ambitions for reconciliation in the region.” British daily The Telegraph listed India as one among 20 most dangerous countries in the world, along side Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. The Telegraph report claimed that post the attack, the British government had been warning against all except essential travel to India.

While the militants did not really single out foreigners as targets, one target was distinctive in this regard – the Chabad House. Mumbai has historically been host to a large number of Jews, and Islamic militant groups have for decades propagated an anti-Semitic agenda, but never before were Jews in India their target. But the attack on Chabad House was unique not just because of the presence of Jewish targets, but also because of the connection with Israel.

26/11, mumbai attacks, mumbai attacks timeline, Mumbai attacks foreigners dead, foreigners in 26/11 attacks, death toll in 26/11, death toll in mumbai attacks, Taj Mahal Hotel, Trident-Oberoi, Nariman House, chabad house, ajmal kasab The Chabad House (a Jewish community centre) run by Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg. (Express Archives)

According to a report submitted by Rand Corporation, a non-profit global policy think tank based in the United States, the possible choice for the Chabad House as target could be growing Indo-Israeli military, counter-terrorism and intelligence relationship that had long been a source of worry for Pakistan. The selection of Chabad House could have been a way to undermine the building bilateral relationship between the two countries. Recordings of phone conversation with the terrorists at Nariman House, where Chabad House is located, offer substantive evidence to this explanation. A caller from Pakistan asked one of the terrorists to kill all hostages since “if the hostages are killed, it will spoil relations between India and Israel.”

The attack on Chabad House resulted in Jewish communities world over mourning the death of the hostages. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli officials have criticised India for ‘mishandling’ the situation. But the report also noted, ironically, the ties between India and Israel- which is also grappling with terror- have been cemented further by the attack on Mumbai.

The moment that went on to be commemorated as India’s 9/11 was no longer India’s tragedy alone; it was the juncture that strengthened further the determination of global powers to fight against terrorism.

Defining images of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks