At 6 am on Saturday, Rupen Doshi was surprised to see several WhatsApp messages on his phone. It was when he checked them that Doshi realised Paris was under attack. He immediately called up his relative, Darshal Shah, who lives in Paris, to check up on him. Shah was safe, but Doshi hardly felt reassured. A survivor of the November 26, 2008, serial attacks in Mumbai, he felt himself transported back to that horror-filled night, just 12 days before its anniversary.
Doshi lost a friend that night at the Oberoi Hotel attack.
Govind Singh, currently employed as an accounts manager in Vile Parle, used to work in a restaurant behind the Taj Hotel when the 2008 attack happened. He said the images he saw from Paris were “eerily similar”. “It was the same style, the way they (bombers) spread out and attacked everything simultaneously. The gunfire sounds must have been similar. I think the only difference between the Paris attacks and Mumbai is that the attack on the Taj continued for three days,” Singh said.
The 38-year-old had himself stayed locked inside his office for two days, finally being rescued on November 28.
For the investigators of the 26/11 attacks too, the Paris attack brought back many memories. “26/11 was the first time the world witnessed coordinated attacks at multiple targets simultaneously. The Paris incident in many ways is like a rerun,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deven Bharti said. “In both cases, terrorists targeted places of high footfall and iconic structures. In both cases, the perpetrators were from outside.”
Bharti had been part of the 26/11 probe team and had questioned Ajmal Kasab, the sole terrorist to have survived and been captured alive.
Former Anti-Terrorism Squad chief K P Raghuvanshi, who was commissioner of Government Railway Police in November 2008, also points out that “buddy partners” appear to have been used to carry out attacks in both Paris and Mumbai. “Plus both attacks took place at night time.”
However, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Atulchandra Kulkarni said there was a crucial difference, the foremost being that while the 2008 attack was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Paris perpetators are suspected to have been motivated by the Islamic State. Kulkarni pointed out that the IS by nature was a different organisation, with thousands of radicalised fighters all over the world.
Bharti also conceded that another stark difference was that in Paris, the attackers did not try to prolong the attack, unlike in Mumbai, and blew themselves up at the first hint of capture.
The other question foremost in most minds in Mumbai on Saturday was whether the city was better prepared now to hold off a Paris-like attack.
Former IPS officer Vappala Balachandra, who was part of a panel constituted by the state government in the aftermath of the attack, says security has indeed improved. “The force is better trained and there is a heightened sense of awareness now.”
Thane Police Commissioner Parambir Singh, who was positioned outside Cama Hospital during the 26/11 siege, says not just Mumbai but even its satellite towns were now better equipped. “We carry out regular security drills and the sense of security has improved since 26/11,” he said.
However, Raghuvanshi pointed out, there was ultimately no foolproof plan to secure public places. “Post the attacks, there were many representations by foreign companies claiming they could secure train stations with sophisticated gadgetry. But when they surveyed the Churchgate station during peak hours, they confessed that securing Mumbai’s local rail network was an impossible task.”
The coastline remains vulnerable too, with its length going up to 330 miles in Maharashtra. The Coast Guard has time and again written to the state government on the problem posed by fishing trawlers. “We have highlighted non-cooperation by fishermen, who refuse to share details of their crew members,” a senior official said.