The world gawped in horror as the media transmitted rolling news of a terrorist rampage through the streets of Mumbai. The commercial hub of South Asia is no stranger to terrorism and, as the state elections approached in November 2009, the security services were well aware that there was likely to be a display of violence from one or other of the fanatical Muslim organizations intent on ‘liberating’ Kashmir from India’s governance. But nobody could ever have anticipated the sheer gall of the attack: ten suicide terrorists, armed to the teeth with high-explosives, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, attacked Mumbai from the sea. Their mission was to blow up the tower of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai’s most prestigious luxury hotel, in an oriental version of 9/11.
The reign of terror lasted for three days, orchestrated from thousands of miles away in Karachi using satellite-phone technology to relay orders that kept the Mumbai police on the hop. After landing on the beach in inflatable boats at the southern tip of the city, the terrorists split up and, as instructed, headed for carefully chosen high-profile targets – the Taj Mahal Palace, the nearby luxury Oberoi Hotel and exclusive Leopold Restaurant, the main railway station, a hospital and a Jewish community centre – where they rained bullets on terrified members of the public, hurled grenades and held hostages.
The rampage ended with the deaths of all but one of the terrorists. He confessed that he had been recruited by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamist organization whose avowed aim is simple, if crazed: to wipe out India and all Jews everywhere, and create an Islamic state out of the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan at first vehemently denied any connection, but reluctantly had to admit that the terrorists had sprung from Pakistani soil.
When: November 26-29 2008
Where: Mumbai, India
Death toll: At least 173 killed and 308 injured; nine of the ten terrorists also died.
You should know: The single surviving terrorist – 21-year-old Mohammed Ajmal Amir – shocked his interrogators by his willingness to swap sides: ‘if you give me regular meals and money I will do the same that I did for them’. A village boy and petty criminal whose parents couldn’t afford to send him to school, he’d joined Lashkar-e-Taiba not for any religious convictions but because he thought it would be exciting to learn how to use a gun.