It has been eight years since ten young men stormed into the financial capital of the country with the sole aim of wrecking it to the core — for three consecutive days, the city of Mumbai was wrapped in the grip of terror; eight years since Mumbai was brought down to its knees.
Up until November 2008, terror was associated with the fear that vexed the life of the common man or those unfortunate, inhabiting the disputed borders of the country. For the first time, the bubble of comfort that sheltered the propertied and elite in India was shattered. It was also the first time when foreigners in the country were the target of an attack, transforming a domestic tragedy into one that ended up having significant international ramifications.
But the largest significance of 26/11 lay in the impact that it had on public emotion. Never before had a terrorist attack given rise to public debate of the kind that discussed the role of every element of society in inhibiting terror. From politicians to the country’s security agencies to the media, each failed in its responsibility that eventually claimed the lives of 166 individuals.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The image of the front dome of Taj Mahal Palace hotel encapsulated with a large plume of smoke is one that is etched into the memory of every Mumbaikar. It was not just about the fear of the hundreds trapped inside or the multiple bombings and shootings or the fact that the iconic five-star hotel lay under siege for the longest period of time that made the Taj the face of the 26/11 attacks. Rather, the attack on Taj symbolised something way more powerful. It was a brazen combat against the most affluent and celebrated in the financial capital. It was a brutal strike upon an establishment that symbolised the emergence of an entrepreneurial elite in India.
For more than 60 hours the symbol of opulence in Mumbai lay at the mercy of four heavily armed terrorists.
9:38 pm: Two among the four terrorists, Abdul Rehman Bada and Abu Ali reached the main entrance of the Tower section, having planted a crude RDX bomb in front of the police post nearby. Armed with AK 47s, ammunition and grenades, they made their way to the lobby area, firing on anyone and everyone who caught their sight.
9:43 pm: The other two terrorists, Shoib and Umer, entered through the La-Pat door of the Palace and started shooting down guests in the poolside area. The fact that the terrorists were aware of that the La-Pat door, which is generally closed to public, was open on that particular day for a few corporate meetings and a wedding, was evidence of the intricacy in planning that went behind the attacks.
By the poolside, four foreigners were the first to have been shot down dead by the terrorists along with security guard Ravindra Kumar and his Labrador Retriever.
12:00 am: By midnight Mumbai Police surrounded the Taj. Many of the guests inside the hotel were huddled up by the staff into small rooms by this time.
1:00 am: The central dome of the hotel was bombed and there was a massive fire in the building.
3:00 am: The army and firemen arrived at the location.
4:00 am: The first round of evacuation took place. Two groups were formed by marine commandos. The first group was out safely. The second group was spotted by the terrorists while they were making an exit. Gautam Singh, a tandoor chef at Taj, was one of them. He was shot dead.
November 27 (Thursday)
6:30 am: A team of 200 commandos reached Mumbai from New Delhi and took charge of the rescue operations in Taj and Oberoi. The government gave orders to storm the building. In the succeeding hours, evacuations took place in batches.
10:30 am: Fresh round of gun battle reported from within the building.
4: 30 pm: The terrorists set fire to a room on the fourth floor of the building.
November 28 (Friday)
14: 53- 15:59 pm: Ten grenade explosions reported to have taken place within the premises.
7: 30 pm: Another round of explosions and firing took place.
November 29 (Saturday)
8:00 am: The Indian commandos announced that the Taj had been cleared of all the terrorists.
While the NSG and medical teams sanitised the building after complete evacuation, the fire department was still dousing the last fires in the building. At St, George hospital and JJ hospital body bags kept coming in. The wards were full to their capacity as patients were lying in sheets soaked in blood and tears.
The Oberoi-Trident is the other icon of luxury and opulence in Mumbai that came under the deadly saws of the 26/11 attacks. Being much larger than Taj Mahal hotel in terms of spatial capacity, the rescue operation at the Oberoi-Trident was extremely slow. The two hotels being interconnected, consist of 800 rooms between them. An approximate larger number of hostages were under siege here than at the Taj. Further, bureaucratic failures had led to the security forces being able to enter the building only in the evening.
The Oberoi-Trident plays host to a large number of foreign tourists visiting India and it was the case on the night of 26/11. Foreign nationals were reported to be the prime point of target for the terrorists. By the time the siege ended in Oberoi-Trident, 143 hostages were rescued alive and 24 bodies were recovered.
10:10 pm: Gunfire began at the entrance of Trident with the gatekeeper being the first to fall prey. Two gunmen walked into the reception area and opened fire. Hotel staff including bellboys and hotel management trainees lay injured as the two gunmen made their way to the Opium Den bar, the Tiffin and later the Kandahar restaurants.
The two gunmen walked up the mezzanine level to the spa and killed two Thai masseuses, following which they set off a grenade explosion at the lobby level.
November 27 (Thursday)
12:00 am: The Rapid Action Force positioned themselves outside the building. Friends and kin of those trapped inside stood in the bylanes waiting to hear about their loved ones, hoping they would be rescued.
6:00 am: The police stepped back as the NSG takes over operation at the Oberoi.
6: 45 pm: Explosions and gun battles continue throughout the day. A number of NSG and army personnel are reported to be injured. Evacuation of hostages take place in batches. By now a total of 31 people are rescued.
7: 25 pm: A fire is reported to have broken out in the 4th floor.
November 28 (Friday)
3: 00 pm: The rescue operation at Oberoi comes to an end and both terrorists are killed. As reported by Ritu Sarin, at the end of the 40 hours of trigger alert at Oberoi, the site resembled a camp ravaged.
This attack was distinctive in nature as it was on the Chabad House (a Jewish community centre) run by Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg. The House, located in Colaba, was frequented by large number of Jews, particularly Israeli but also from those visiting the country from across the world.
The couple had moved to Mumbai from Brooklyn in 2003 and taken upon themselves the management of the centre that housed an educational centre, a synagogue and a social hall. The place was a meeting point for foreign Jewish backpackers on their way to holiday destinations in the country, and also for the Jews living in the city.
The news of the attack on the Chabad House was quick to have international reverberations across similar Jewish centres across the world in more than 70 countries. Never before had Jews in India been the target of attack for any terrorist group.
November 26 (Wednesday)
9:45 pm: Dinner had just ended and the Rabbi along with his wife, his two year old son, Moshe and six guests were getting ready to go to bed when a gunshot was heard. When one of the gunmen came upstairs, a bomb blew off at the petrol pump near the building. Seconds later, an RDX laden device went off near the base of the Nariman House staircase. The terrorists then charged upstairs with gunshots ringing in the air.
The Rabbi and his wife along with their guests were held hostage in the Chabad House for the next nearly 40 hours. The couple’s son, Moshe and the cook managed to escape twelve hours into the siege. According to witnesses, the boy’s pants were drenched in blood when he emerged.
November 27 (Thursday)
5:30 pm: A batch of 20 commandos were sent who tried to enter the building from the ground floor. The terrorists had destroyed the lift and the entry point to the Nariman House.
November 28 (Friday)
12:00 am: Nine hostages were rescued from the first floor.
7:30: am: Unable to enter the building from the ground floor, NSG commandos were air dropped onto the terrace of the building from a chopper.
1:00 pm: Firing at intervals and grenade explosions continued through the day.
3: 30 pm: A fifteen-minute shooting spree was followed by an NSG commando hanging a red flag from the window of the fifth floor as a signal to the NSG authorities outside about the final assault.
5:45 pm: An explosion blew up the fourth floor of the building. The eruption was strong enough to expose the top floor staircase.
6:00 pm: One of the NSG guards went to the rooftop and showed a thumbs up sign declaring the operation to be successful.
9:00 pm: NSG chief J K Dutta arrived at the spot and declared the rescue operation at Nariman House to be successfully over. However, the Rabbi, his wife and five of the hostages were found dead. One commando, Joginder Singh was killed while two others were injured.
When the Indian Express entered the building less than 24 hours later, the site resembled much like a global conflict zone. More than 30 grenades had been hurled. Small craters were all over the floor and bullet marks all across the walls. The stench of decomposed bodies was unbearable. The bodies of the two terrorists lay on the fourth floor.
Photographs of hostages released post the operation give evidence of the torture unleashed on them by the terrorists. The Rabbi’s body was found in the second floor with his legs tied up with a belt. His wife’s body lay nearby. The bodies of two Israeli girls lay beside each other with their hands and legs tied up.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Two militants carried out the shooting inside the city while two others moved towards the Metro cinema. Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist caught alive by the police was one of the four militants carrying out the gunfire inside the railway station. The attack had left 52 dead and injured over a 100 others. The firing ended at about 10:45 pm.