Skip to main content

Sixty Hours of Terror


[clock] 104-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Fall 2009
An officer patrols a train station, as seen through a bullet hole in glass above.
A policeman on patrol as seen through a bullet hole in the window of the Re-Fresh snack bar at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images).

I. Ten Gunmen, Ten Minutes

November 26, 2008. 9:40 P.M. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) hummed with the foot traffic of late commuters. Under hulking steel rafters, held over from the British colonial era, the PA announcer issued final calls for departing suburban trains as they lurched away one after the next, packed with passengers. Long-distance travelers, mostly the poor North Indian migrants who flock to the city by the tens of thousands, took up benches and spots on the concrete floor, resting on sheets of newsprint with their piles of luggage.

Fongen Fernandes, the spry fifty-three-year-old manager of the upper level of the Re-Fresh snack bar with its tall glass panels overlooking the platforms, was talking to a graphic designer. Fernandes stood admiring the designer’s digital handiwork on a laptop open at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, when he felt sand-like debris sprinkle the top of his head. “What’s this?” he said to himself. He wiped his smooth pate a couple times and continued talking, unaware that below two young men had emerged from a bathroom abutting Platform 13 and begun spraying the crowd with gunfire, unaware that a high-velocity bullet shot from less than thirty yards away had missed him by inches and lodged in the wall over his shoulder. He bid the designer farewell and was halfway down the stairs when another series of rounds cracked against the wall and showered sparks into the air. A grenade exploded on the platform.

A slight, serious-looking, middle-aged man sits at a table in a restaurant. He looks out the broad windows at the larger building that encloses the restaurant.
Fongen Fernandes in the upper level of the Re-Fresh snack bar (Jason Motlagh).
A train station is crowded with people. Arrival and departure boards loom over them, suspended from a corregated metal roof.
The platform at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Jason Motlagh).

Rattled by the sudden chaos, Fernandes scrambled back upstairs, cut the lights, and ducked behind some advertising placards that were pasted to the base of the snack bar windows. He instructed everyone to slide belly-down and hide behind a bank of metal food warmers. One woman started to scream. He motioned for her to shut up. When she wouldn’t, Fernandes threw his handkerchief to a waiter who held it to her mouth. “Don’t let go of her,” he said.

Fernandes stole a look at the scene below. Bodies lay scattered on the station floor, slicked in blood. The gunmen scanned and swiveled. They shot from the hip, in steady bursts. The shorter, stocky one, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, wore beige cargo pants and a blue t-shirt with VERSACE printed in white on the chest; the other, Ismail Khan, was slimmer and wore all black. Both carried rucksacks. On any other day, Fernandes would have taken them for college boys on their way home. These were no students, though. The ease with which they wielded their weapons amid the panic betrayed a professional’s mien.

Two more volleys lashed into the snack bar. One hit Mukesh Aggarwal, a co-worker in charge of the ground level, in the stomach. Fernandes, a devout Catholic, started to pray in the dark. “St. Anthony, please deliver us . . .”

9:40 P.M. Leopold Café.

Two young men—one named Abu Shoaib, the other known simply as Nazir—got out of a yellow and black city cab across the street from the Leopold Café. Open since 1871 in the heart of the Colaba district, the multi-level dive was packed with more than a hundred people enjoying western food and cheap pints of Kingfisher beer to the din of rock music that spilled onto the sidewalk, where hawkers plied t-shirts and offered hash to foreign backpackers.

Co-owner Farhang Jehani stepped out to take a phone call. He watched the pair of young men pay the cab fare and wait by the curb, bags slung over their shoulders. Driver Fulchand Bhind was grateful for the extravagant tip the young men had given. Unbeknownst to him, the two men had slipped a bomb, set to go off in one hour, under his seat. As Bhind pulled away, the bomb clicked silently toward detonation. How could he have known? These young men certainly didn’t look like terrorists. Jehani, across the street, assumed they were students waiting for friends. When his call was finished, he went inside and around to the back staircase that leads to the mezzanine-level bar to watch the cricket match. India was playing England, and they were winning. Jehani’s family is part of Mumbai’s long-established Parsi community, émigrés from Iran who practice the Zoroastrian faith, but like any lifelong Indian, he is passionate about cricket.

A man stands on an interior balcony, looking down on a high-ceiling restaurant one story below him.
Farhang Jehani, co-owner of Leopold Café, on the restaurant’s upper level (Jason Motlagh).

Outside, Shoaib and Nazir glanced one last time at a watch. It was 9:40 P.M. They hugged and reached into their bags. One tossed a grenade into the restaurant. Then they opened fire together. The shriek of shattering mirrors pierced the room. Some patrons bolted for an exit at the opposite side of the parlor; others tried to hide behind upset tables and chairs. Upstairs Jehani hit the ground. He didn’t think the gunmen would know about the second level but wasn’t sure; a panel of violet stained glass could reflect shadows so he whispered for a bar hand to cut the lights. Maneuvering low to secure the door at the foot of the stairs, he saw that someone had already jammed a table against the handle.

The attack was over in less than two minutes. Shoaib and Nazir fled down an alley toward the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, a five-star Mumbai landmark with towering red domes and expansive views of the Arabian Sea just two blocks away. At least five people were gunned down in their path, including a waiter who had worked at the café for seventeen years; another seven people, four foreigners and three Indians, lay dead inside. Two empty magazines rested on one of the few tables left standing. Outside, patrons were flagging down cabs to carry the wounded to the hospital.

9:40 P.M. Nariman House.

Nariman House sat on a dark-lit backstreet in a working-class area of Colaba market, a brisk ten-minute walk from Leopold Café. The narrow, pale building was the headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement and a haven for Mumbai’s dwindling Jewish community. Known to the faithful as Chabad House, the center also served as a home away from home to Israeli travelers wishing to celebrate holidays and eat kosher while abroad. Amid the swarm of the city, it was likened by some to a lighthouse.

A high-rise residential building stands amid a crowded nighttime urban landscape. The sky glows with the lights of buildings.
Nariman House at night (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

Its reputation for warm hospitality toward strangers was the product of its caretakers, thirty-year-old Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg of Brooklyn, New York, and his wife Rivka. Five travelers who had stopped by earlier in the day had stayed on for dinner: David Bialka, a middle-aged Israeli diamond trader and regular guest during business visits; Yocheved Orpaz, a retired Israeli woman, on vacation; Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, a Jew from Mexico visiting en route to Israel; and two younger American Jews living in Israel, Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum and Bentzion Chroman, who had come to Chabad to instruct the Holtzberg’s Muslim chef, Qazi Zakir Hussain, in the preparation of kosher food. After saying their evening prayers together, the guests retired to their rooms on the forth and fifth floors for the night. On the second floor Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife were taking stock of food supplies ahead of Shabbat festivities when they heard a series of bangs outside.

Sandra Samuel was in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, when she heard the commotion but assumed it was firecrackers. Samuel worked for the Holtzbergs as a nanny to the couple’s two-year-old son Moshe. Their first son Menachem Mendel had died of Tay-Sachs in 2006. Their second, Dov Ber, was hospitalized and deathly ill with the disorder. But Moshe was perfectly healthy. He was the malach of the house, their angel and miracle. After the brief disturbance, Samuel and Hussain, the cook, had just gone back to putting leftovers in the refrigerator when they spotted the darkened figure of an armed man in the hallway. Samuel and Hussain sprinted for the adjacent library and locked the door behind them. Samuel called out for help from the balcony, but she crouched back inside when the firing intensified. A grenade blast shook the first floor. It ripped plaster off the walls and the library door from its hinges.

Upstairs in his spartan fourth floor room, David Bialka’s mind raced. His first thought was to try to descend the staircase, but it was dense with acrid smoke. The only way out was the bathroom window; all the other windows had iron grills. He squeezed himself through and clung fiercely to a drainpipe, sliding down to an air conditioning unit. There he could look down and see the crowd at street level. Several were shouting at him and threw rocks at the floors above. Hesitantly, he moved down to another AC unit and then decided to jump the last two floors to the ground. Angry neighbors initially mistook him for a gunman, yanking at his clothes and landing punches.

Back inside, in the noise and confusion, Rabbi Holtzberg made a last-second phone call to the Israeli Consulate. It was a cool plea for help. “The situation is not good,” he told the officer on duty in Hebrew. The line went dead. Rivka, six months pregnant, tightly clutched Moshe, who would not stop crying as the gunmen, two men named Babar Imran and Nasir, made their way up to their second floor living quarters.

9:40 P.M. Trident-Oberoi Hotel complex.

Dressed in a starched sherwani and a black turban seamed with gold, the Sikh doorman smiled namaste greetings to hotel guests emerging from luxury sedans. The rickety taxi that pulled up to the base of the driveway struck a sharp but familiar contrast. Mumbai is a city of such contradictions, the divide between opulence and privation so commonplace as to go unnoticed. Two young men, Abdul Rehman and Fahadullah, stepped out of the cab, and made their way up the ramp to the dwarfing eighteen-story Trident hotel. They stopped short of the main entrance, dropped their shoulder bags, withdrew assault rifles, and unleashed a salvo of bullets at the façade of a Gucci boutique just opposite. One employee was struck. The Sikh doorman and the rest of the door staff ran for their lives, while one of the gunmen placed a white travel bag containing a ticking bomb on the ground. It was the first of two bombs they would plant around the complex. The gunmen then walked back to the hotel doors and announced their entry with another burst of rounds.

Although the airy open gallery to the left was empty of people, the gunmen fired a few more perfunctory shots to break glass, revving themselves for the kill. Turning to their right, they approached the baggage counter. A bellboy and a service staff member cowering behind it were left sprawled in a pool of blood. The gunmen pressed forward into the main lobby, chasing screams with volleys of bullets. At the elevator bank around the corner from the reception area, a Japanese businessman, Hisashi Tsuda, stepped out into view of the gunmen, who leveled their rifles. Tsuda made an about face but was shot in the back as the doors slammed shut. Together Rehman and Fahadullah stormed into the Opium Den restaurant at the far end of the lobby. One guest who had lingered was struck down by the fusillade. Four more people, three hotel staff and another guest, were found and killed in an equipment room.

The gunmen headed back to the lobby and up a flight of stairs to a shopping concourse that led to the adjoining Oberoi. Still more glass storefronts crumbled under fire. Just to make sure no authorities were in pursuit, they doubled back, and then continued on, killing another guest hiding in a jewelry shop. It was 9:57 when they entered the Tiffin, a pan-Asian restaurant, on the concourse. Within seconds, a dozen people were dead, slumped under tables and across booths. Patches of hair and flesh were blasted against the walls. Andreina Varagona, an American meditation teacher was hit in the arm and the leg but lived, as did her friend, Linda Ragsdale, a children’s book author and illustrator. Most of the patrons of Tiffin were not so lucky.

By the time the pair of gunmen reached the Kandahar restaurant, staff had rushed more than sixty diners out through a back kitchen passage. The gunmen entered with a concussion of hand grenades and gunfire. “Don’t move,” they shouted. Two waiters, Jordan Pereira and Pradeep Ramamurthy Manglorkar, still inside, were caught. The gunman ordered them to douse several tables with liquor and set the place ablaze. Pereira, his hands shaking with fear, fumbled with a lighter. “Hurry up, use the matches,” one of the gunman shouted. Pereira managed to strike one of the bar matches, but his hands, wet with alcohol, caught fire. He screamed in anguish. Their patience had run out: one of the gunmen fired off three quick rounds, and Pereira slumped to the floor. The other waiter, Manglorkar, was told to lead the way to the upper levels where terrified guests were already barricading themselves.

Manglorkar led them to the service elevator. As they waited, Rehman and Fahadullah each lobbed hand grenades behind them into the restaurant. As they crouched, covering their ears, the elevator opened and Manglorkar jumped in. The gunmen fired as the doors closed, but the waiter escaped.

9:40 P.M. Taj hotel.

Tourists and touts lingered in the salted air of the plaza in front of the Taj, admiring its illuminated domes and façade, a fusion of Moorish and Florentine styles. The horse-drawn carriages that idled curbside, ready to whisk couples along the water’s edge, accented the castle-like atmosphere that has drawn the rich and famous since the hotel opened more than a hundred years ago. Inside the complex, the lavish rooms were nearly booked solid with a mix of foreign and domestic VIPs, among them several European members of parliament. A myriad of banquet halls and restaurants played host to business dinners and a wedding party, as they had done countless times.

Standing in the cool, perfumed Taj lobby for the first time, Hafeez Arshad and Javed couldn’t help but pause for a moment to marvel. Arshad wore a red hat printed with the word YESHU, Hindi for Jesus. The polished marble floors squeaked under the soles of their tennis shoes, just audible over the soft background music. For a moment, they seemed to float in the quiet—as if briefly the tourists they appeared to be—before the violence they were about to inflict. One walked toward the Shamiana restaurant, one of ten in the complex. Withdrawing his assault rifle, he shot at its glass doors. His accomplice entered the corridor that spans the two wings of the hotel, walking past a line of high-end boutiques and a gallery of autographed celebrity photos. He came to a small waiting area that opened onto the Taj’s courtyard pool and started shooting.

Reacting to the disturbance, a security guard with a German shepherd was hit as soon as he rounded a corner. Just then, Abu Shoaib and Nazir arrived from inside the hotel and started firing. After shooting up the Leopold Café, they had jogged down an adjacent lane, stopping briefly in front of a popular alley bar and again near the fringe of the pedestrian plaza by the Gateway of India to activate time bombs, then moved onto the Taj’s rear service entry where they smashed their way in. The four heavily armed men now controlled the hotel, the stronghold of their coordinated terror assault. Boarding an elevator, the group climbed to the top of the old Taj—the sixth floor—to dig in and comb for high-value hostages.

It was now 9:50 P.M. In just ten minutes, as many gunmen, operating in five pairs, had managed to lay siege to one of the largest cities in the world.

II. The Army of the Pure

Since their birth at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, Pakistan and India have shared a border and mutual enmity that has often led to bloodshed. As the imperial powers had prepared to withdraw from British India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League contended that Muslims needed a land of their own, lest India’s vast Hindu majority marginalize them. The two separate countries emerged out of what is now known simply as the Partition—the sudden, mass migration of millions of Muslims and Hindus moving to their designated side of the religious and cultural divide. What was supposed to be peaceful separation instead provoked communal pogroms on a scale rarely seen, with estimates that half a million people were killed. Unprepared for such upheaval, the newly formed governments blamed each other for failing to protect their co-religionists. This nascent trauma and the bitter recriminations that followed poisoned relations between the two neighbors and at times, in the decades ahead, gave rise to open conflict.

Kashmir, a region of sweeping meadows and virgin rivers in the Himalayan foothills, has been the crucible. The British plan for Partition dictated that all of India’s feudal states would choose their own path, which included the option to remain independent. Most of the Muslim-majority states acceded to Pakistan, the Hindu ones to India. But the ruling Hindu maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, wished to remain independent. In the days following the Partition, Pakistan army-sponsored irregulars, in a bid to force Singh into acceding Kashmir to Pakistan, invaded from the west. It was only then that Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India. In response, India airlifted troops to confront Pakistani paramilitaries who were closing in on the provincial capital, Srinagar. Intense fighting gave way to a cease-fire at the onset of winter. The warring sides agreed the dispute would be resolved by a UN-sponsored plebiscite, but that never materialized. Two more wars followed. The frontline became a de facto border, renamed the Line of Control, that divides Kashmir to this day.

In 1989, armed resistance broke out in the Kashmir valley after Muslim parties claimed legislative elections had been rigged. Some groups called for total independence; others fought for accession to Pakistan, whose military establishment turned a blind eye to—or, some say, played midwife to—militant training camps on its side of the border. These proxies gave Pakistan the deniability it needed to avert a nuclear catastrophe should hostilities ever escalate out of control, while maintaining a strategic capacity to harm and harass. As fighting wore on, some secessionist groups such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front returned to the political fold and were supplanted by more radical outfits, marking a shift from a secular-national militancy to an Islamist one. The change was driven in part by the arrival of seasoned veterans from the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and financial support from Saudi Wahhabi donors. Serving as rogue paramilitaries, they carried out brazen cross-border attacks into Kashmir and deeper into India.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba (“Army of the Pure”) emerged as the largest and most active of these organizations. More than a militant outfit, LeT became a multi-dimensional socio-political movement with an armed wing, drawing comparisons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Its avowed mission was to “liberate” Kashmir’s downtrodden Muslims, the first step toward an expanded Islamic state in a wider, global struggle against the “enemies of Islam.” According to founding father Hafiz Saeed, a former engineer with a dyed henna beard, “Our jihad will continue until Islam becomes the dominant religion . . . Kashmir is no more than the gateway to India, and we shall strive also for the liberation of the 200 million Muslims.” Inside Pakistan, LeT’s umbrella organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, ran a backcountry network of Islamic schools, farms, and hospitals with the government’s blessing. These outlets facilitated recruiting for guerilla training camps. More than 80 percent of LeT ranks were Pakistanis, largely Punajbis with lower-class or criminal backgrounds. Outcasts gained a sense of belonging and a means of redemption. But so too did college graduates, who were seen as highly motivated. Propaganda—real and exaggerated—of alleged Indian atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims primed them for violence.

Spectacular Mission Impossible–style operations like the attacks on Delhi’s Red Fort in late 2000 and the Srinagar airport in 2001 embodied LeT’s cold commitment to martyrdom. The stakes were raised with the December 13, 2001, assault on India’s parliament in New Delhi. It left sixteen people dead and triggered a massive troop buildup on both sides of the border, along with fears that an all-out war might be next. Tactful moves by top-level generals on both sides of the border averted disaster. The LeT was listed as a terrorist group by the US State Department and subsequently banned in Pakistan, where it was forced to lower its profile. The outfit ceased claiming responsibility for attacks and changed its name. As a peace process between Pakistan and India gained traction, militant operations were scaled back. Some hardliners defected. Meanwhile, LeT social work was carried on through its 2,000-plus local offices around the country. When a devastating earthquake struck Kashmir in October 2005—and the Bush administration refused to provide adequate aid, arguing it might fall into the wrong hands—the LeT, through Jamaat-ud-Dawa, led the relief effort.

Under the cover of such charitable activities, the LeT militant network remained intact. Its sprawling, 190-square-acre Muridke headquarters, barely fifty miles from Lahore, remained a way station for hundreds of new recruits. At varying points, the ten Mumbai attackers passed through there. Handpicked by LeT deputies, for months they were groomed for a grander act of terrorism that would serve notice to India, rival jihadi groups, and the rest of the world. In the spirit of the 9/11 attacks on the US but carried out within a single metropolis, the operation would be exhaustively researched and planned, simultaneously executed by well trained operatives with sophisticated weaponry. When it was over, the sieges of India’s Parliament and Red Fort would be reduced to footnotes. The planning took years.

Finally, at 8 A.M. on November 22, 2008, the ten attackers boarded a weather-beaten vessel moored on the outskirts of Karachi. May Allah be with you, their handlers told them as the attackers departed. After less than an hour at sea, they docked to another, larger boat, the Al-Husseini. The group members were told to shave, get changed, and be on alert. Weapons and all the supplies they would need were stashed onboard.

The boat was said to belong to Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi—known to the attackers affectionately as Uncle Zaki. According to a study by the US Department of Homeland Security, Lakhvi is one of LeT’s founders and the Supreme Commander of its operations in Kashmir. He is the suspected mastermind of the 2006 Mumbai train bombings that killed 209 and left more than 700 injured. In May, while the attacks were still being planned, Lakhvi’s assets—along with those of three fellow LeT higher ups—were frozen by the US Treasury Department. “LeT is a dangerous al Qaida affiliate,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI), in a prepared statement. “Its transnational nature makes it crucial for governments worldwide to do all they can to stifle LET’s fundraising and operation.” But efforts to pressure President Pervez Musharraf into arresting Lakhvi had failed.

The next afternoon, the sleeping attackers were roused from the cabin and told it was time to go. An Indian fishing trawler, the MV Kuber, was forcibly boarded; four fishermen aboard were overtaken and dragged off. One, Captain Amarsingh Solanki, was held. The attackers said goodbye to their escorts and got on. For the next two days and nights, they took turns keeping watch over Solanki in two-hour shifts.

Finally, Mumbai became visible in the distance. The attackers waited for the sky to darken, idling four nautical miles from the shore. They inflated two rubber Zodiac speedboats and heaved their rucksacks aboard. Each bag contained an AK-56 rifle, a pistol, eight hand grenades, and at least three sets of magazines. The ten men would work in pairs. One Nokia mobile phone with built-in GPS was distributed to each duo. This would allow them to communicate with their handlers or improvise on their own in the unfamiliar city.

On the handlers’ orders, two members slit the throat of the Indian captain who had helped steer their course. Solanki’s body was dumped in the engine room. Seeing an unknown vessel approaching, they hurried into the Zodiac boats and started toward shore.

At about half past 8 P.M., they pulled into the fishermen’s colony in Badhwar Park, south Mumbai. Anchored wooden skiffs, festooned with orange and yellow flags, bobbed gently in the surf. Weaving through them, the men cut their engines when the rocks of the jetty scratched the bottom of their boats and stepped ashore onto solid ground—Indian ground.

At the water's edge, a young man sleeps on a fishing net. Behind him is a filthy shore, and then a small inlet crowded with small boats. On the other side of the inlet is a cluster of squat high-rise buildings.
A fisherman dozes on the dock at Badhwar Park, where the gunmen came ashore (Jason Motlagh).

Their arrival was hardly noticed, given the late hour and the local preoccupation with the cricket match on television. But one man was curious. This was not the time of day to be on the water, and this dock was only frequented by the dark-skinned Mumbai fishermen who speak the Marathi dialect. These fair-skinned young men were speaking in Urdu. The attackers told the fisherman to mind his own business and walked past the washed-up flotsam and piles of shit to Cuffe Parade road. Some hailed taxis; some jogged away on foot. Within minutes they had all vanished. They were already late for their mission.

III. “It’s Do or Die”

A line of khaki-wearing police officers stands a hundred yards back from an ornate, castle-like hotel. Smoke comes from one window, and it looks parts of the building are on fire.
Police gathered outside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower (Priyam Dhar).

November 26, 2008. Late Night. Nariman House.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Isaque Bagwan was sitting down for a late dinner at his Colaba home, his hair still wet from a shower, when the phone rang: gunmen were shooting up the Leopold Café. He grabbed his revolver and ran out to his car.

En route to the restaurant he heard an explosion in the near distance. The noise told Bagwan it was a bomb. One of the gunmen had hidden an explosive under a vehicle at the Express Petroleum station on Colaba causeway; its timer had triggered. Pump manager Ram Bhuwal Yadav, having locked himself inside his office after hearing the nearby gunfire, was thrown to the ground. Afraid the pumps would catch fire, Yadav sprinted outside; everyone was running away from the scene. Within seconds, Bagwan received another phone call from his superior, who directed him to reroute to the Jewish center at Nariman House, around the corner from the scene of the blast. Expecting the worst, the decorated veteran made a quick stop at the police station to rouse a dozen constables who brought .303 bolt-action service rifles with them.

A middle-aged man, sitting at a desk, talks on a mobile phone. The top of his desk consists of a single pane of glass. Papers are spread out on it. Off to one side is a photograph of a medal being pinned onto his chest; he's wearing a khaki police uniform.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Isaque Bagwan in his office (Jason Motlagh).
Debris litters the street in front of a gas station. It is nighttime. No people can be seen.
The Express Petroleum station, near the Nariman house, shortly after a time bomb had detonated there (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

The team had to fight their way through the alley crowd to get closer. The gunmen were firing scattershot at the narrow street below, tossing an occasional grenade to stir the gathering panic. Rounds smacked on the pavement and ricocheted at random, pocking the walls of the Rex bakery opposite. One neighborhood man, Harish Gohil, a twenty-five-year-old would-be choreographer, had already been killed here. Gohil had been on the terrace of his house next door when he heard shots ring out. Knowing the Holtzberg’s had children, Gohil and some friends had hoped to effect a rescue. They were crouching in a nearby ravine, still plotting their approach, when Gohil muttered, “My chest is hurting.” He opened his shirt and blood poured from the bullet hole. He was dead before he could reach St. George’s hospital.

With this in mind, Bagwan and his men took cover underneath adjacent buildings, their ground floors open to the street but protected from incoming fire from overhead. Still, Bagwan knew his men held a weak vantage point. He was experienced in such shootouts—going back to Mumbai’s first police encounter in 1983, when he helped take out a gangster in a street engagement. The best he could do was try to project greater strength than he could actually muster, while spiriting residents out of harm’s way.

Several neighborhood men sprang to help, including Puran Joshi, a friend of Bagwan’s involved in local politics. Joshi was in his office catty-corner from Nariman House, chain-smoking and talking with neighbors when the gunmen struck. “No one move from here, and keep quiet,” he had said, before heading out to find the police who had converged on his backstreet. Like them, he would stay awake for the next three days as a liaison between the community and law enforcement officers.

Standing next to a six-story building, a man looks at his mobile phone. He's wearing a kurta, a knee-length shirt not unlike a nightgown.
Puran Joshi outside the Nariman House (Jason Motlagh).

Bagwan and his men found three more dead bodies as they encircled the building. An elderly couple was later shot in front of Bagwan as they tried to run across the lane below. He agonized over whether to try to withdraw their corpses despite the gunfire from above. He had to wait.

At quarter past eleven, six soldiers from the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) bearing semi-automatic rifles arrived on the scene to the ring of sirens. They joined the constables already in surrounding buildings where they cleared rooms and took up positions. Until backup arrived, Bagwan’s order was to deliver sporadic fire from all sides to keep the gunmen guessing but not to attempt to enter.

Late Night. The Oberoi.

The crescendo of gunfire had accelerated as Parambir Singh, an additional commissioner of police, pulled up to the hotel. Almost as troubling as the gunfire was the posture of officers on the scene, dumbstruck and keeping their distance. Only one carried a service revolver. The rest had only bamboo lathi batons. The air fell silent for several minutes, interrupted by a few gunshots. Then came a chain of blasts, which Singh could identify as grenades from his anti-terror training.

He walked into the Oberoi alone, pistol at the ready, broken glass crunching under his soles. The once grand lobby was completely deserted, in ruin. When he reemerged Singh encountered the hotel security chief, who debriefed him on the layout of the complex, using maps to point out entry and exit points as gunshots above continued to ring out. No matter what, Singh thought, the gunmen could not be allowed to escape. Two platoons of State Reserve Police reinforcements had started fanning out to various exit points when the hotel was rocked by a far bigger blast. The bomb placed by a gunman in the driveway had gone off, powerful enough to shatter all the glass on the ground floor.

Minutes later, Singh received a phone call from Hemant Karkare, the chief of Mumbai’s Anti-Terror Squad (ATS), checking to see if a quick response team had reached the scene. They had not. Karkare, calling from CST, assured Singh they were on their way. Singh and Karkare were old friends, having worked their way up the ranks from a district posting as young officers almost twenty years earlier. The brief conversation would be the last time the two friends ever spoke.

Late night. CST.

From his desk, Sebastian D’Souza could hear the muffled crack of gunfire. The newsroom of the Mumbai Mirror daily newspaper is one of several publications that rents space at the faded Times of India building just opposite the train station. D’Souza, the newspaper’s photo editor, snatched his Nikon D-200 camera and lens bag, took the stairs, and dashed out the door. The shots grew louder as he hit the pavement. Though just two years shy of retiring to a home near the beach in Goa, his birthplace, the pull of the moment was irresistible to D’Souza. He ran to the northwest entrance of the terminal, a hundred yards down track from the gunmen.

They controlled the platform. Passengers had either fled or died trying. Police were dead or hiding. Without haste, the gunmen reloaded banana clips from their rucksacks, daring officers to confront them. D’Souza was tracking the gunmen to get just within range to snap a picture without making a fatal misstep. He ran alongside the carriages, moving in and out, looking for a safe angle. Advancing behind a concrete pillar, he crouched next to an armed police officer who looked on as the gunmen blasted rounds into the ticket windows. “What are you doing! Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!” D’Souza said, to no response. For a moment, he wished he’d had a gun instead of a camera.

The photographer advanced and retreated to get the picture he needed. He witnessed a newspaper vendor in front of his stall get shot as he tried to close the metal shutter, apparently worried about getting robbed. D’Souza clicked his camera. He moved closer using an idle train car as cover. The gunmen were less than thirty feet away when it dawned on D’Souza that his light-colored shirt could catch the eye of the shooters. As he turned and darted through the train cars back toward a distant platform, he heard more gunshots but never looked back.

A train was pulling into platform two. “Your attention, please,” the station announcer said. “Please stay inside the train and be alert. Walk to the back and leave the station through Gate No 1.” The gunmen were distracted when D’Souza, crouching behind a pillar, took the first shot of the pair standing together. When the incoming train ground to a halt, about fifteen people alighted and ran toward the back of the platform. D’Souza took aim with his telephoto and got the shot that epitomized the whole ordeal: Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, rifle in hand, mid-step and expressionless.

A young man walks through a train station. Nobody else can be seen. He's carrying a large backpack. In his right hand is a large rifle with a sizable clip of ammunition.
Gunman Ajmal Kasab strides through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (Sebastian D’souza / Mumbai Mirror / AP Images).

10 P.M. CST.

Sudam Aaba Pandarkar, a fifty-six-year-old assistant sub-inspector in the railway police for Thane district, had boarded the night commuter train at Ambarnath Station. The nearly hour-long ride to Mumbai had gone as usual, Pandarkar keeping silent watch over drowsing passengers in the second-class ladies compartment, until the train pulled into CST. Out on the platform, Pandarkar could hear unruly cricket fans setting off firecrackers—celebrating, he supposed, India’s unexpected defeat of England. But as the train rolled to a stop and the doors opened, Pandarkar realized that the noise was not firecrackers but automatic gunfire. He ran with the other passengers toward the back of the platform and took cover.

More than fifteen policemen were gathered there in one of the arched entryways, but they were paralyzed by fear. Many were armed only with World War I-era bolt-action rifles or side arms; other carried no weapons at all. The platform in front of them was littered with bodies, the blood of innocent commuters pooled on the concrete floor. Between bursts of gunfire, they could hear the moaning of the wounded and the wailing cries of the children and spouses of the dead. What match were they for this kind of firepower?

Just then, Inspector Shashank Shinde, armed only with his 9mm pistol, rushed toward the group. “You five men with rifles, come with me,” Shinde ordered. “There are terrorists over there. We must shoot them.” Only Pandarkar obeyed—joined by an unarmed, off-duty policeman, later identified as Ambadas Pawar.

They crept forward from one platform to the next and soon found Kasab near Platform 6. They moved to within fifty feet of him. Pandarkar turned off the safety on his .303 Enfield rifle, fully loaded with a five-round stripper clip. Inspector Shinde leveled his pistol, ready to provide cover. Pandarkar fired three rounds—but all missed their target. Kasab wheeled and returned fire. Pawar was a good shot and asked Pandarkar for his rifle; he was certain he could do better. But Pawar fired off the two remaining rounds without hitting Kasab. As Pawar struggled to reload, Kasab sprayed the three policemen with bullets.

Suddenly, everything went quiet. Pandarkar found himself flat on his back, a burning pain in his chest. He lifted his head and saw blood oozing from a wound and darkening his uniform shirt. A few yards away, Pawar and Shinde lay motionless, their blood spreading across the floor. Pandarkar struggled for breath. Later examination at St. George Hospital would reveal that the through-and-through shot had pierced and collapsed Pandarkar’s left lung, but he would survive; Pawar and Shinde were not so lucky.

Still, Kasab was rattled by this show of defiance. He made his way toward the exit, Ismail Khan at his side. One of the unarmed policemen rushed to a petrified comrade and seized his rifle. He leaned out from behind a column and pulled the trigger, but the century-old rifle misfired. While the policemen struggled to clear the jam, Kasab fired on the pair. In a fit of frustration, the unarmed policeman grabbed a plastic chair and flung it at the gunmen, powerless to keep them from escaping the station.

A shirtless man sits bandaged on his hospital bed his bloodied and bullet-riddled shirt hanging beside him.
Sudam Aaba Pandarkar with the bloodied uniform shirt he was wearing during his shoot-out with Ajmal Kasab in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Juli Garzon).

10:30 P.M. Outside CST.

Kasab and Khan exited CST by a steel footbridge that connects to the parking lot of the Times of India building. On their way across, a photographer on the third floor chanced a picture of Kasab. The flash drew a burst of shots. The pair then tried to break into the building where hundreds of nightshift employees were on duty but were thwarted by a quick-thinking security guard who had secured the door from inside.

Continuing along a back alley, they shot Vijay Khandekar, a constable attached to the Azad Maidan precinct. “I am bleeding heavily,” he told a friend by cell phone. “I am going to die; you have to save me.” Their next victim was Thakur Wagela, a cleaner at the nearby hospital who was eating dinner and watching cricket highlights outside his shanty when they approached and asked for a drink of water. Their thirst quenched, the gunmen shot Wagela in the chest in front of his five-year-old son. A neighbor who looked out of his window to check on the noise met the same end.

A middle-aged man stands outside of a ramshackle garage, holding a large, framed portrait of a pair of young men. He looks sad.
Father of victim Thakur Wagela (pictured, right), who was shot outside his shanty near Cama hospital after giving gunmen a drink of water (Jason Motlagh).
A locked gate stands under a sign that reads: ONLY FOR WOMENS & CHILDRENS.
The rear gate to the Cama and Albless Hospitals (Juli Garzon).

The sign at the rear of Cama hospital read: ONLY FOR WOMENS & CHILDRENS. It was 10:59 when Kasab and Khan jumped the back wall. A full half-hour had elapsed since police at Azad Maidan radioed control that the pair had left CST, and was heading their way. Fifty-three people were already dead at the station, and these guards had locked themselves in and turned off the lights. Mumbai police headquarters was just two blocks away. And still no resistance. Kasab and Khan shot two guards on the terrace. “Let’s hide here,” Khan said, and the gunmen entered the pink and maroon building and hiked the stairs.

10:40 P.M. Ekta Nagar.

Fulchand Bhind’s cab threaded the narrow streets of Ekta Nagar, a maze of shanties not far from the docks and wharves on the eastern shore of Mumbai. Reema Rabuil Sheikh and her mother Zarina Shamsuddin Sheikh were on the way to visit Reema’s sister Ruma Arif Sheikh. They had just stepped from the cab and Zarina had paid Bhind for the fare. “Do you have change?” he asked.

The sudden blast of the bomb under Bhind’s seat blew the roof off of Zuma’s house and left a crater in the street below. Nineteen people were injured by the spray of shrapnel. Reema and Zarina were killed instantly. So little of Fulchand Bhind’s body was left that it took authorities nearly a week to ascertain his identity—though, for those days, the crows of Ekta Nagar picked his remains from the lower branches of surrounding trees.

10:40 P.M. Vile Parle.

Fifty-five-year-old Laxminarayan Goel couldn’t believe his luck. He had been scheduled on the 9:50 pm Hussain Sagar Express to Hyderabad, but he had arrived late at CST. He didn’t even bother going inside the station. Instead, he flagged a cab and called his family to say that he had missed his train. As the cab wended back north to his hotel in the Vile Parle district, the radio was suddenly filled with reports of mass carnage at CST and word that the gunmen had been targeting night commuters. But before Goel could call his family again, a bomb under the seat of driver Mohammad Umer Abdul Khalid, left there an hour earlier as Khan and Kasab exited the cab, detonated. The car was blasted apart and engulfed in fire. It would take an hour for authorities to extinguish the flames and deliver the charred bodies of Khalid and Goel to Cooper Hospital.

10:50 P.M. Cama Hospital.

Viju Chauhan, a twenty-seven-year-old woman who worked at the Sassoon Dock in Colaba peeling prawns for two dollars a day, was in the delivery room, her contractions now coming hard and close together. She was a few pushes from childbirth—and everyone was terrified. Minutes before, one of the emergency doctors had informed the nursing staff that gunmen had opened fire on the crowd at nearby CST. There were reports that they were now moving on foot through the area. The nurses had hurried through the maternity ward, instructing the young mothers to switch off their cell phones and feed their babies, so they would be sleepy and not crying from hunger pains. They then set to locking the doors, but Chauhan’s husband, Ramu, had just brought her to the emergency room in labor and they were on their way upstairs to the delivery room, when the sound of gunfire rang out from the back terrace. The ward doctor came running: “The watchman has been shot.” Five doctors, a nurse, a nurse-in-training, and a midwife whisked Chauhan to the delivery room, and the ward boy locked the door behind them. Chauhan was told she would have to endure her labor in silence, and they would do their best to muffle the newborn’s cries. At 10:55 P.M., the baby girl who Chauhan would later name Goli (meaning “bullet”) was delivered. The doctors pulled the mattress to the floor, switched off the lights, and all huddled in the corner away from the door.

Minutes later, the gunmen came shouting down the corridor, calling out for the terrified to step out and meet their fates. “We killed two bastards,” one yelled. They banged on the door to the ward, shot out the windows, but still couldn’t gain entry. The hospital staff had locked doors and barricaded the entry with furniture. As Khan and Kasab worked their way upstairs, they fired randomly down the corridors. On the fourth floor hallway the straggling relative of a patient was caught and stabbed to death.

On the fifth floor, the gunmen found an open door. They encountered four people inside, including fifty-six-year-old Harishchandra Shrivardhankar, who had been leaving the Ear-Nose-Throat clinic when he heard shots outside CST. He had run back inside the hospital for refuge, entering the ward through the same open door Khan and Kasab had discovered. The gunmen ordered everyone out to the balcony and told them to lie face down. Shrivardhankar, believing he was about to be executed, swung his bag at Kasab and kicked him. Kasab slashed Shrivardhankar’s neck twice and, after he had fallen to the ground, shot him twice in the back. The remaining hostages were locked in a bathroom.

Unsure where to proceed, the armed duo chose to make the hospital their stronghold. But police had infiltrated the building. There was noise on the floors above and below them. The gunmen threw two grenades to force the police back, the shrapnel wounding two of the officers. Despite their carbines, bulletproof vests, and superior numbers, the constables held back.

11 P.M. Taj Hotel.

Half naked and face down on the floor, KR Ramamoorthy expected to be shot. The back of his neck throbbed from the glancing blow of a rifle butt delivered by one of the two gunmen who had commandeered his room—632—just moments earlier. Stripped of most of his clothes, his hands bound tight with his linen kurta and pajama bottoms, he found the abuse dizzying. “I’m sixty-nine years old. I have high blood pressure. Please let me go,” he begged. “We’ll leave you, we’ll let you go,” replied a voice in accented Hindi.

Without his glasses it was hard to make them out. They were young, probably in their early twenties, he thought, and able-bodied, with large black assault rifles and matching rucksacks that sagged from the weight of their contents. The pair immediately started making calls on satellite phones. Ramamoorthy could not understand the language they were speaking, but figured they were describing their situation to people at the other end. Their tone was calm, remarkably so given their age and present circumstances. One word he could understand was “grenade,” which was repeated several times.

In the twilight of his career, the balding non-executive chairman of ING Vysya Bank could indulge in lodgings like the Taj during his occasional work trips from Bangalore. After eating dinner in his sixth floor room, he had stepped out to go to the business center on the fifth floor for some bottled water. A knot of security guards in khaki uniforms gathered in the corridor had told him to go back inside and lock his door. Suspecting trouble, he rushed back to his room and switched on the flat-screen television. Every channel flashed the same breaking story: the Taj and the Trident-Oberoi Hotels were under attack by an unknown number of gunmen.

He had called his wife and children to assure them he was okay, keeping an eye on the television set. A short while later, the newscasts were cut. For the better part of an hour, Ramamoorthy waited upright on his bed, unaware of the havoc unfolding on the floors below. His anxiety swelled as the minutes passed. Then, at around 11 P.M., there was a knock on his door. “Room service,” a voice had called out. The veteran banker was hesitant and stayed quiet. “Shoe polish,” the voice said. “I don’t need it,” Ramamoorthy finally answered.

No response. Ramamoorthy was frozen.

Gunshots blasted the door open. Ramamoorthy tried to lock himself into the bathroom, but the gunmen moved quickly and overpowered him as he fumbled. With warm Kalashnikovs trained on his head, Ramamoorthy was ordered to his knees.

Seen in a blurred silhouette, a man walks down a street, holding a handgun at his side. It is daytime, and he is backlit.
A security guard outside the Taj hotel (Priyam Dhar).

Late Night. Taj Hotel.

Deputy Commissioner of Police assigned to Zone 1 of south Mumbai, Vishwas Nangre Patil could scarcely hear his own footsteps in the carpeted hallway of the hotel’s south wing when he rounded a corner and saw two men with assault rifles. His heartbeat was in his ears. He took cover behind a pillar and fired three rounds from his Glock. The gunmen returned fire.

Patil cut the right figure to oversee his beat’s tourist attractions and fine hotels. A brass belt buckle complemented his crisp beige uniform and neatly trimmed moustache. This attention to detail also applied to police work. Two months earlier, after receiving a warning from Indian intelligence of a possible attack on the Taj and Oberoi, he had drawn up a detailed list of security upgrades—but it went unheeded. Now his worst fear was playing out before him. When he reached the first floor of the Taj, he encountered a chilling scene: a pair of bodies slumped on top of each other, made worse by the howl of a young girl in the far corner of the room who was missing part of her hand. His instinct was to help, but others behind him would have to assist. Shots from the floor above quickened him to their source. He was a career police officer, first and foremost, and the people responsible were on the loose.

Patil knew he was outgunned. Most of the constables in south Mumbai were armed with lathis or, at best, dated service revolvers and rifles that few had actually fired in the line of duty. Patil was no longer among them. After the exchange in the second floor corridor, he charged in pursuit and did not wait for backup. Only his bodyguard, officer Amit Khetale, and the hotel’s unarmed chief of security, Sunil Kudiyadi, followed by his side. But Patil was still unsure by how much the attackers outnumbered him. He had seen three gunmen. But they had moved off. How many more were there? And where were they now?

Thinking he could see better from a higher position, Patil made his way with Kudiyadi to the sixth floor by way of a back staircase. This was where prominent guests, and potentially high-value targets, stayed, making it a logical place to start. He worked his way along the corridors, scanning, bursting through doors, with occasional glances over the railing down the atrium in case the gunmen tried to slip away. No sign of them. Figuring they might have proceeded to the north wing of the old Taj, he went back to the ground level to enlist more personnel. Again, he rode the elevator up to the sixth floor and systematically his team worked its way down.

Just after midnight, Patil and a group of ranking officers now on the scene resolved that they needed to gain access to the closed-circuit security cameras to determine who they were up against and to monitor their movements. A platoon of over fifty SRPF forces had since reached the hotel and spread out. Along with several constables, Patil took an elevator to the surveillance control room. The live feed from a sixth floor camera at a corner of the south wing showed two gunmen on the prowl. One wore a hat that said YESHU.

In a gambit to see how many more lurked upstairs, Patil stepped out of the room, leaned over the banister, shot a round at the center of the vaulted atrium and darted back inside. On camera, three gunmen emerged and started firing and throwing grenades over the rail. He relayed the news back to police headquarters. “It’s do or die!” he said. Police commissioner Hassan Gafoor implored him to play it safe. “The army is on its way,” he said. “Wait for backup.”

The gunmen were setting fire to carpets and mattresses. “Where is the backup?” Patil radioed back. “Where is the backup?” On the TV screen, he looked on as hostages were dragged to the floor below. His orders were not to leave the security room, but this was too much. People were going to die as police stood by. To hell with the chain of command.

“I am going in,” he radioed.

“No!” Gafoor shouted back. “Keep them pinned down!”

Patil was ordered to wait for commandos. He agonized but obeyed his boss.

November 27. Midnight. Outside the Cama Hospital.

Sadanand Date, an additional commissioner of police for central Mumbai, was not supposed to be at Cama. The attacks were taking place out of his jurisdiction. But he was asked to go to CST and headed to the hospital as soon as he heard the gunmen had moved on, stopping on the way at a police station to get a carbine issued. It was his team that penetrated the hospital to face heavy fire and grenades from Kasab and Khan, who they had isolated on the sixth floor. At 11:19 he made his first call to control for backup. Six more calls were made, with no response. The seventh, at 11:28, went through moments after a grenade blast critically injured two men; Date’s right eye was blinded by shrapnel. “Central Region walkie-talkie sends out an SOS: Heavy firing. We are all injured. Need help. Please send reinforcements.” Date traded fire with the gunmen until midnight. He was hit again, this time by a bullet to his left leg.

Khan and Kasab decided to abandon their position. They released a hostage to provide cover, lobbed another grenade, and rushed toward the exit. In their hurry, Kasab dropped his rucksack, which contained several magazines and the satellite phone, but they had made it outside. The gunmen fled through the front entrance and headed north, under cover of darkness, past the stone archways of St. Xavier’s College and down an alley. They ducked into some bushes when they saw the headlights of a Qualis police SUV on patrol coming their way.

The gunmen waited for the vehicle to pass and when it slowed, perhaps trying to make out their forms, Kasab and Khan opened fire, showering the van with bullets. The officers returned fire, hitting Kasab on his left wrist and right forearm and elbow. But the gunmen kept up their fire until they were the only ones shooting.

They dragged five bodies from the van out into the street, but Kasab’s bleeding arms hurt too much. They left two constables in the backseat. There officer Arun Jadhav had been shot three times but was still breathing under the motionless body of a colleague. Had he not given his pistol to an unnarmed officer at Cama, he could have shot them both at point-blank range. As it was, all Jadhav could do was lie still. He heard Khan laugh. “Look,” the gunman said, in Hindi but with a thick Punjabi accent, “they’re wearing bulletproof vests.”

Three khakied police officers attend to a crime scene, in the form of a pool of blood in a street. Some of it has run downhill in a rivulet.
Investigators inspect the site where five police officials were shot and dumped the night before (Priyam Dhar).

Khan started up the Qualis and sped off down the dark backstreets. A cell phone went off in the pocket of the motionless constable. Kasab in the passenger seat wheeled and fired several shots. If the motionless constable was not dead already, he was dead now—but Jadhav underneath was unhurt by this second volley. The van swerved past the neon marquee of the Metro Big Cinemas multiplex, where a crowd of journalists and bystanders had converged. The gunmen fired from the window wounding several people, but not before a police bullet punctured a rear tire and sent them careening away on a flat.

Sharan Arasa was driving with two friends to Nariman Point to pick up another friend who had been at the Oberoi when the attack began. As they approached the Vidhan Sabha, the state assembly for the government of Maharashtra, Arasa saw a police SUV approaching. Someone leaned out the window and ordered him to stop, firing a single round into the air. Now Arasa was staring at the barrel of a gun as Khan grabbed him by the collar and dragged him from his silver Skoda. Kasab ordered the other two out onto the sidewalk. The gunmen demanded Arasa’s keys. He tossed them down but they slid under the car. Arasa turned away, bracing for the worst, but he was ordered to retrieve the keys. He handed them over to Khan. For some reason, the gunmen spared Arasa and his friends and sped away.

12:30 A.M. Chowpatty Beach.

Tukaram Omble, a forty-eight year old assistant sub-inspector, was on the night beat when his supervisor radioed about the attacks and instructed him to stake out a post on Marine Drive. Some time after 12:30, he got an update over his walkie-talkie: two terrorists had hijacked a silver Skoda and were heading for Chowpatty Beach. Omble hurried to his motorcycle and stood ready. Minutes later, he spotted the Skoda and gave chase. Khan at the wheel tapped his brakes and sprayed wiper fluid in an effort to shake the motorcycle, but Omble kept up his pursuit.

Speeding down the Marine Road, they quickly approached a barricade that police from DB Marg station had erected at a choke point on the way out of south Mumbai. Kasab fired out the passenger window at the roadblock, but in slowing down they had allowed Omble to overtake them on his motorcycle. Khan gunned the engine and attempted a U-turn, only to get stuck on the center median. Kasab fired a volley out the passenger window that killed one officer. Omble jumped from his motorcycle and managed to grab the hot muzzle of the shooter’s AK-56, but Kasab fired off several more rounds, perforating Omble’s stomach and intestines. He crumpled to the ground but kept grip on the barrel until he passed out. The other officers fired their rifles into the Skoda, drilling the windshield. Khan was shot dead. Kasab tried to get off another shot as constables closed in, but they dragged him from the car and knocked him unconscious with their lathis.

Nine people stand in and around a crime scene on an urban street. A series of numbers chalk circles on the asphalt mark apparent evidence, including bloodstains and a pair of shoes. It is nighttime.
Investigators inspect the scene where Khan and Kasab drove their carjacked Skoda into a police roadblock (Priyam Dhar).

Back at the Oberoi, the second bomb had exploded in the hotel lobby, sending police outside ducking for cover. In an instant, waves of guests rushed out of the hotel, some half-dressed and streaked with smoke, clutching passports, in tears. Additional Commissioner Singh tried to get information from some of them, but most were too stricken for words. He needed to calm the crowd. He was walking around, barking for police personnel to get back to their posts, when he heard more shots coming from the southern end of the Oberoi complex. He grabbed a Kalashnikov and drove around to investigate.

He found a police SUV broken down in the middle of the road. One rear tire was shredded and bullet holes pocked its side. A voice moaned from within. It was Arun Jadhav, bodyguard to Vijay Salaskar, a senior inspector known for his lethal encounters with underworld figures; Salaskar, Singh knew, had been with ATS chief Karkare when he called from CST. Singh and his guard removed the bloodied officer and rested him on the pavement. Jadhav said two gunmen had hijacked the van after killing Karkare, Additional Commissioner Ashok Kamte, and Inspector Salaskar, along with another constable. Karkare, Salaskar, and Kamte were three of Mumbai’s best. “That can’t be true,” Singh replied, thinking Jadhav was in shock. He had just spoken with Karkare on the phone. But Jadhav was adamant. The officers’ bodies had been pulled out of the front and strewn in the street while he, barely breathing, hid under the dead constable in the backseat. “Sir, I am telling the truth,” he insisted. “Listen to me.”

Just then, Singh got the call—two men had been shot at Chowpatty Beach. He raced three miles north under the sepia lights of Marine Drive, the seaside promenade emptied of its usual strolling couples. On reaching Chowpatty, he found the gunmen, immobile, being hauled away on stretchers. He slapped them both hard in the face. The stockier one gave a faint shudder. Singh pinched his nose to check his breathing. He gasped. “This one is still alive,” he shouted. “Take him to the hospital.”

A bearded man lies in his hospital bed.
Arun Jadhav lies recovering in his hospital bed after being shot three times by Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan (Juli Garzon).

12:50 A.M. Headquarters of the National Security Guards.

It was well past midnight when Jyoti Krishnan “JK” Dutt got the call he had been waiting for. “Get your men down to Mumbai now,” Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar said. Dutt, the director general of the National Security Guards (NSG), India’s elite anti-terror force, had been riveted to the TV since the shooting began, waiting for authorization to deploy his men. Scant as details were, the emerging reports indicated running gun battles with automatic weapons at far-flung sites around south Mumbai. This was not, he thought, typical hit-and-run gangland violence.

Before receiving the formal request, Dutt had already given the order to suit up. Inside the barracks at the NSG complex in Manesar, Haryana, some 200 commandos quickly strapped on the dark Nomex cover-alls and assault helmets that earned them the nickname the Black Cats. Shouldering special issue Heckler and Koch MP-5 sub-machine guns, they boarded buses and sped to Delhi airfield. A hulking Ilyushin-76—requisitioned from Chandigarh, 165 miles away—was supposed to be waiting, but it was late arriving.

Worse still, Dutt was initially briefed that terrorists had seized the Taj, the Oberoi, and Nariman House. But when the commandos finally reached south Mumbai late the next morning, they saw that gunmen had overtaken a total of five buildings, not three. As a result, a second round of commandos had to be summoned. (Dutt would later admit that television reports offered better information, going in, than the Mumbai police.) The snafus piled up. When the advance force arrived in Mumbai, delayed further by a government minister, no helicopters were available to bring them into the city; they had to wait for buses. They reached downtown nearly ten hours after initial reports of an attack. (Some counter-terrorism experts say trained commandos must be on the scene no more than thirty minutes after the start of an assault.) It’s not known how many lives were lost during the wasted hours.

IV. “No Hostages Should Remain Alive”

An ornate, castle-like hotel is on fire, a cloud of black smoke rising to meet the blue sky. In the foreground, a flock of birds flies by.
The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in flames (Priyam Dhar).

1 A.M. Kasab Interrogation: Part I

Ajmal Kasab spoke before a question was asked: “I have committed a big mistake.”

He lay flat on the hospital mattress, a brown blanket covering his naked body from feet to chest. His hair was wet with sweat. Gauze bandages swathed his arms from wrists to biceps, but the girth of his forearms suggested a solid build. Another patch covered the right side of his neck. Exposed was a gash on his clean-shaven chin. His eyes were squeezed shut as the police interrogator, standing at the edge of the bed, introduced himself to the prisoner and the video camera that was rolling.

“On whose insistence?”

“At the behest of Chacha.” The mysterious Uncle Zaki.

“Who is this Uncle?”

“The one from Lashkar.”

“Lashkar what? Which village is he from?”

“I don’t know about his village. But he has an office . . . He keeps visiting the office.”

“Who sent you here?”

“My father said we were very poor . . . Our condition would improve . . . We will have food to eat, clothes to wear.”

“Was he your real father?” the interrogator asked.

“Real father . . . real father,” Kasab mumbled.

“What’s your name?”

“Ajmal Kasab.”

“What’s your age?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Where is your village?”

“Faridkot”—in the Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The interrogator asked about his family background. Where his father lived and worked, his siblings and their occupations. His surname, Kasab, meant butcher, he explained, but no one was involved in that line of work anymore. He said he quit school years ago and had since taken menial jobs in construction.

Some time in 2007, he said his father took him to Uncle Zaki to work for him. His aggrieved tone of voice implied that he was either forced or misled into doing so. “Uncle Zaki would say, ‘Work with me. You will bring a good name to your family. You will get money. It is Allah’s work.’”

“What happened next?”

“He told my father to leave me in the office. From then on I was in Allah’s custody.”

Kasab said he, along with about twenty-five other recruits, began training in winter, shortly after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Their trainers were hardened men who demonstrated how to use grenades, Kalashnikov rifles, and handguns. He said he only knew one other person there.

“Where were you supposed to go after today’s incident?”

“Nowhere. We were meant to die.”

How many accomplices were sent with you?

Kasab tried to dodge the question. He was ordered to wage jihad, he said, was blindfolded and put on a boat. Asked if he’d ever done something like this before, he momentarily broke down. “Nowhere, nowhere,” he said. He only did this because Uncle Zaki promised to give his struggling family a large amount of money.

“How does Zaki look?”

Collecting himself, Kasab described Zaki as a man in his forties with a black beard flecked with white, a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet Army.

“What lecture did he used to give?”

“He would give lectures only once in a while. He would keep very busy. ‘You are Muslims. You have to get rid of poverty. Look at India. They have raced ahead of us. They kill your people. You have to wage jihad against India.’”

Early Morning. Oberoi Hotel.

Getting at the gunmen was not going to be easy. Unlike at the Taj, there were no closed-circuit cameras installed in the hotel’s corridors, making surveillance impossible. In the predawn hours after his return from the shooting scene at Chowpatty Beach, Additional Commissioner Singh had tried splitting available forces into two teams to penetrate the guest areas and to isolate the gunmen, but he had to abandon the plan after grenades came cascading down onto the lobby floor. Tactical advantage belonged to the gunmen and was theirs to lose.

A series of police officers sit on a long, cement bench. They hold Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk IIIs, stout bolt-action rifles with undersized-looking clips and leather slings. All look across the street.
Police officers wait restlessly outside the Oberoi hotel (Priyam Dhar).
A dejected-looking man stands in front of an ambulance. A surgical mask is looped around his ears, but it's pushed down under his chin. He wears a disposable plastic smock.
Exhausted ambulance workers outside the Oberoi (Apoorva Guptay).

Looking for a better vantage point, Singh took two ATS officers and went to the rooftop of the Express Towers, a high-rise apartment complex down the street. Rooms at the Oberoi were either blacked out or had curtains drawn. Another pair of ATS officers, meanwhile, had been posted on the terrace of the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), just opposite the Oberoi. They relayed what they saw to Singh on a wireless: a corner window on the eighteenth floor had been smashed out and a gunman was firing bursts at police on the street; a second gunman, on the side open to the sea, was doing the same. But the officers could still not manage a clear shot.

Singh was not in a mood to sit idle. The loss of innocent life in the city he’d sworn to protect was bad enough, but when Chief Karkare was located, discarded on the street alongside his colleagues, he was found clinging to life. For a brief time, it seemed possible he would survive but then Singh received word that his longtime friend and partner had died in the hospital of his injuries. Singh wanted to strike back, and hard. He decided to join the ATS officers at the NCPA and was running across the street when he noticed a movement on an eighteenth floor balcony. Convinced the shadow belonged to one of the gunman, he snatched a semi-automatic rifle from a subordinate, took aim and fired. The bullets smacked the concrete walls as the figure vanished into the room.

1:37 A.M. Taj Hotel.

Handler: The ATS Chief has been killed. Your work is very important. Allah is helping you. The minister should not escape. Try to set the place on fire.

Gunman: We have set fire in four rooms.

Handler: People shall run helter skelter when they see the flames. Keep throwing a grenade every fifteen minutes or so. It will terrorize.

Kasab Interrogation: Part II.

The interrogator kept up the questioning for more than two hours, angling for a crucial piece of information that might strengthen the authorities’ weak hand. He wanted to know more about the other gunmen, questions Kasab resisted. He offered a brief description of their physical appearance, clothing, and cities of origin. All were Pakistani, he confirmed, all under thirty years old, armed to the hilt.

His own assault rucksack included eight hand grenades, two of Austrian (Arges) make with plastic cases, a bomb of military-grade RDX explosive with steel ball bearings and timer, a pistol with two seven-round clips, and a semi-automatic Chinese-made AK-56 assault rifle with three double magazines, each containing thirty bullets. One hundred eighty rounds in total. A water bottle and a sack of almonds and raisins were also packed, in case he got hungry.

Their instructions were clear. If they landed ashore in the early morning, they were to move to their assigned targets and wait until eleven in the morning when human traffic surged. If they arrived any later, they were to commence between seven and eleven at night, under cover of darkness but while car traffic was still at its peak. Once in motion, the objective was to kill as many people as possible: “Anyone who would come into sight.” Then they were to take a “stronghold, take people hostage, and make demands” of the government. Their handlers would call the gunmen once they were holed up to relay those ransom requests.

2:02 A.M. Taj Hotel.

Gunman: Salaam Aleikum.

Handler: Waleikum as-salaam. How are you doing?

Gunman: All is fine, by the grace of Allah.

Handler: So how many hostages do you have now?

Gunman: We have five hostages now. One of them is speaking in some Kannad language.

Handler: What’s his name?

Gunman (to the hostage): What’s your name? Ramamoorthy . . . He is saying his name is Ramamoorthy.

The handler told the gunman to ask what he did for a living. In an effort to hide his identity, Ramamoorthy lied that he was a university teacher.

“No way a teacher can afford to stay at the Taj,” the gunman scoffed. “You better tell us the truth.”

“I work for a bank,” Ramamoorthy admitted.

The handler conducted an Internet search on his laptop. A picture of the bald and bespectacled Ramamoorthy came up. His appearance fit the description. The handlers in Pakistan seemed pleased by this.

Handler: Okay, no hostages should remain alive.

3 A.M. Taj Hotel.

Ramamoorthy’s room on the sixth floor had served as the gunmen’s de facto command center for close to three hours. All of the Taj gunmen—Arshad, Javed, Shoaib, and Nazir—had gathered there, chattering on cell phones to their handlers, helping themselves to the mini bar. The gunmen seemed relaxed, at peace. Their nonchalance harried the bound hostages. Finally, the word came: the handlers told the gunmen it was time to leave, that they should use their hostages as human shields.

The group was marched out of the room at gunpoint, down a staircase to a fifth-floor room, where they were shoved to the floor, told not to move, and then the gunmen left. Ramamoorthy tried to grasp what was going on. The gunmen were nowhere to be seen. Better to follow instructions? Or would the gunmen kill them when they next returned? An explosion boomed overhead. It demanded a choice. The fire spawned by the blast started spreading across the sixth floor. Dense smoke soon began to fill the hostages’ room.

After struggling for several minutes, the banker managed to free his right hand from the knot at his back, and then his legs. With a pair of scissors he found in a drawer, he helped free the other hostages who were gasping for air and opened windows facing the swimming pool. A hotel staffer ripped curtains from their fixtures and tied them with sheets to improvise a rope. One at a time, they slid down the balcony outside to a ledge on the third floor.

Ramamoorthy, the last left, was exhausted by his surging blood pressure and feared he could not descend alone. He would fall. But flames spilled from the windows above and licked the outer wall with a searing heat; he couldn’t remain here. He collected all the clothing he could find around the room to use as cover and, steeling himself, dashed out of the room, back into the hall to the crack of intermittent gunfire. He jogged down the corridor, arms crossed over his head, stooping in the corners to suck air. On the switch-backed staircase he expected the sting of bullets that never came.

An open door eventually appeared on the third floor, and through the room he could see a window to the street where searchlights flickered. Ramamoorthy managed to pry the window open and, waving his arms, shouted down to firefighters below. “Help me, please. I’m here. Help me.” A ladder was raised. The banker was saved. “You are safe,” a firefighter assured him.

But scores of others were still barricaded in their rooms. By now dozens of TV crews had set up in the plaza across the street, giving a torrent of breathless commentary. Millions of Indians at home monitored developments through the night—though none more intently than the attackers’ handlers in Pakistan. Phone calls intercepted and later transcribed by Indian intelligence revealed how much the handlers relied on the media to offer guidance to the attackers, in particular about the movements of police and commandos. At times, excited journalists at the Taj, Oberoi, and Nariman House even broadcast the exact locations of prominent people trapped inside the buildings. As the hours dragged on, such disclosures were exploited to deadly effect.

3:30 A.M. Oberoi Hotel.

Meltem Muezzinoglu and her husband Seyfi chose the wrong escape route. They had been having coffee after dinner with business partner Ali Arpaciouglu in the Kandahar restaurant when the gunmen blasted in. Guided by a hotel staff member whose hand was badly injured, Arpaciouglu exited with other diners through the kitchen down a flight of stairs to a rear entrance that opened to the street. The Muezzinoglus took one of the front doors and climbed an interior stairwell with a small herd of guests. They stumbled on each other, panting for breath. On the twentieth floor Rehman and Fahadullah intercepted the whole group and had been holding them through the night.

Now, the gunmen lined up all fifteen against the wall in the stairwell.

“Why are you doing this to us?” one woman cried out. “We haven’t done anything to you.”

“Remember Babri Masjid,” Fahadullah shouted back, referring to a sixteenth-century Muslim mosque destroyed by Hindu fanatics in 1992.

“Remember Godhra,” Rehman yelled, in reference to a town in Gujarat state where anti-Muslim riots broke out in 2002 following a deadly attack on a passenger train.

“We are Turkish. We are Muslim,” Meltem shouted. Fahadullah gestured for them to lie face down on the floor. After some discussion, three other women, all foreigners, were told to do the same. Rehman and Fahadullah were unsure whether they were to be killed or ransomed. The rest were shot, their bodies collapsing in heaps on the Muezzinoglus. Bullets ricocheted around the stairwell, some coming back at the gunmen, blowing off one or two of their fingers. The five unhurt hostages pushed free from the dead and those still struggling for breath. (Four of those shot survived—the bodies of their fellow victims absorbing the brunt of the bullets.) At gunpoint, the Muezzinoglus and three foreign women were ordered to walk over the bodies of their fellow hostages and down the stairwell.

Taken one floor down to Room 1979, the Muezzinoglus managed to sneak some phone calls while their captors came and went. One call was patched through to Additional Commissioner Singh. In halting English they described the two gunmen. “One is in blue clothes and the second in black; the one in blue seems more cruel. Each is carrying an assault rifle, maybe also pistols, and a bag full of hand grenades. They are constantly speaking to someone on the phone.” The couple also saw that one of them had left a rucksack on the floor, with more grenades and bullet clips.

Meltem also reported that they were being held with three foreign women, including Lo Hoei Yen, a twenty-eight-year old lawyer from Singapore. Yen relayed that the gunmen had threatened to kill her if security forces entered the hotel. Singh told Meltem not to worry. Help was on the way. “Just be patient,” he said.

3:53 A.M. Oberoi Hotel.

Handler 1: Brother Abdul. The media is comparing your action to 9/11. One senior police officer has been killed.

Abdul Rehman: We are on the eighteenth or nineteenth floor. We have five hostages.

Handler 2: Everything is being recorded by the media. Inflict maximum damage. Keep fighting and don’t be taken alive.

Handler 1: Kill all hostages except the two Muslims. Keep your phone switched on so that we can hear the gunfire.

Rehman: We have three foreigners including women from Singapore and China.

Handler 1: Kill them.

9:30 A.M. Taj Hotel.

Ajmal Kasab had told interrogators that only four gunmen were in the Taj, but no one was ready to take his word. The havoc inside the hotel suggested a bigger contingent. And while security forces at the Oberoi had been able to isolate the attackers in one wing, the Taj was a labyrinthine complex with a twenty-one story tower and a main building constructed in a U shape with varying floor plans. The gunmen, for their part, had a demonstrated knowledge of the layout. It seemed that every time security forces applied any pressure, they would stand their ground or fall back to a safe position and force police to reassess. A half-day’s head start added to their advantage.

NSG officers Major Sanjay Kandwal and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan had the dual task of rescuing hostages and eliminating the threat. In the lobby of the new Taj, they consulted with Mumbai police and hotel security staff. The black-clad commandos were then split up into fifteen squads of five commandos each. Major Kandwal would lead four teams into the Taj tower by way of a service elevator and work his way down; Major Unnikrishnan would clear the old Taj. Snipers would surround the complex to ensure no one slipped away. Given the dearth of information the commandos had to go on, hair-trigger timing and force were going to be critical in their bid to take back the hotel. The operation was dubbed “Black Tornado.”

They went door to door, calling, “Police! Identify yourself. Open the door and come out with your hands in the air.” When there was no response, a master key was used. If the door was double locked, rendering the master key useless, it was blown off with explosives. This would often scatter heaps of room furniture barricaded against the door, to accompanying screams. Some people were too terrified to emerge, thinking it was a ruse by the gunmen. Weapons leveled, the commandos would sweep in and shake the room down. With 306 guest rooms in the Taj tower and nearly every one booked, it was an onerous task. All clear on the twenty-first floor. Twenty more to go.

9:30 A.M. The Oberoi.

An NSG motorcade at the periphery of the Oberoi had cordoned the area. Lieutenant Colonel RK Sharma, the task force commander in charge of tactical maneuvers, surveyed the scene with fellow officers before Mumbai police briefed him on what intelligence they had gathered. According to the Muezzinoglus’ account, they could assume at least two gunmen were in the building, though hostilities suggested more were involved. Reports from hotel staff indicated additional gunmen might be on the fourth floor as well. For an hour, the officers pored over floor plans to come up with the best strategy. It amounted to a choice between bad and worse.

It was safe to assume there were no gunmen in the Trident, which had been silent overnight. MARCOS (short for Marine Commandos), deployed as an overnight stopgap until the NSG arrived, had secured each of the three passages that connected the two buildings, effectively sealing off the Oberoi. After weighing various plans of attacks, the officers decided that the building would have to be stormed from the top. NSG forces would move level-by-level, room-by-room to secure hostages and subdue the gunmen. It was decided. At 10:30, two NSG squads of about fifteen commandos charged into the building.

10:45 A.M. Nariman House.

Tit-for-tat, the low-intensity exchanges sputtered on through the night. The gunmen fired volleys out of different windows to keep the police from zeroing in to make a move; Indian security forces did the same from their holding positions, reinforced by NSG commandos bearing PSG-1 sniper rifles. Down below, Joshi coordinated the neighborhood support effort, supplying Bagwan’s police and the NSG with home cooked meals and steaming pots of spiced chai to stave off fatigue.

Inside the Jewish center, the gunmen helped themselves to food and communicated with their handlers through a voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) on an office computer. Rabbi Holtzberg’s phone rang. Imran answered; it was Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who had called Rabbi Holtzberg’s cell to check on the status of the hostages, but Imran only spoke Urdu and could not understand. Shemtov called contacts in the situation room in the White House and requested help from the Indian Ambassador and Israeli Foreign Ministry officials. An Urdu-speaking translator was patched through to mediate the call between Shemtov and the gunmen.

“We wish to speak to negotiate with the Indian government,” Imran said in Urdu. “One of our men is in your custody; bring him to us.” Asked if the hostages were all right, the gunman answered: “We haven’t even slapped them around yet.” Shemtov asked to hear the voice of Rabbi Holtzberg. The voice of a woman with an Israeli accent, later identified as Norma Rabinovich, could be heard shouting in the background: “Please help, immediately, please.” Shemtov again demanded to speak to the rabbi. “You’ve already asked for too much,” Imran said, and the line went dead. Shemtov called again, but now Imran complained that the battery was dying. They knew his demands.

While the negotiation continued, Sandra Samuel and Zakir Hussain slid out from behind the second floor refrigerator where they’d been hiding and crept to the staircase. Samuel heard the faint cries of Moshe, the rabbi’s two-year-old, coming from the floor above. Dashing upstairs, they found the boy on the floor, trembling, blood caked on his pants. Dead bodies lay all around him: his father, his pregnant mother (draped in a prayer shawl), and their two American-Israeli guests, Rabbi Teitelbaum and Bentzion Chroman. In a flourish, Samuel scooped up Moshe and tore down the stairs, out into the morning light.

A mother, holding a toddler, kisses the child on the head.
Sandra Samuel kisses Moshe Holtzberg, orphan of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, after rescuing him from Nariman House (Tara Todras-Whitehill / AP Images).

Early Afternoon. Nariman House.

The handler called Imran and told him to put one of the hostages on the line.

Norma Rabinovich: Hello. Who is that?

Handler: Did you spoke? Did you speak to the consulate?

Rabinovich: I am talking to the consulate. They are doing . . . they are making phone calls just now.

Handler: Already made it or you are going to make it?

Rabinovich: Yeah. [She sobbed.] I’ve already talked to them. I was talking to the consulate just a few seconds back and they are making their phone calls. They have said to leave the line free so that they can get in touch with you anytime and tell you that we are pleased with you. [She cried again.] You understand?

Handler: No, I don’t understand.

Rabinovich: They will get in touch with you anytime.

Handler: Don’t worry, just sit back and relax and wait for them to make contact. Okay?

Rabinovich was inconsolable. She sobbed uncontrollably.

Handler: Save your energy for good days. Maybe if they can contact right now maybe you will celebrate Shabbat with your family.

2:33 P.M. Nariman House.

Handler: How are you brother?

Imran: Things are fine by the grace of Allah.

Handler: You remember all that I had told you? If the media asks where you are from, tell them you are from Hyderabad in the Deccan; that you are from the city of Hyderabad.

Imran: Hyderabad.

Handler: Yes. And say you are from the Toli Chauki area; say you are associated with the Deccan Mujahideen. And if they ask why you did all this? Are you writing all this down?

Imran: Yes.

Handler: Say it is the duplicitous policy of the government. On one hand they pat our backs, on the other they beat our heads with hammers. The latest example of this is the Sachar Committee Report. The government declares one thing but the administration executes its reverse by wrongly arresting Muslim youth . . . And give them the ultimatum that this is only a trailer; the full film is yet to be shown. And listen, talk confidently, and only allow yourself to talk; don’t let them ask too many questions.

Imran: All right.

Handler: They will ask what is your demand.

Imran: Yes.

Handler: You say, first, release all the Muslims in the jails. Second, hand over the Muslim state to Muslims. Third, call back the Army from Kashmir and give Kashmiris their rightful due. Begin the construction of Babri Masjid immediately. The land of the masjid should be handed over to Muslims right away. Do not maintain ties with Israel.

Imran: With Israel?

Handler: Break off ties with Israel; and give the ultimatum to the Israeli government that it should stop the injustice on Muslims.

Imran: Stop playing with Muslim blood.

3 P.M. Oberoi Hotel.

The clearing operation had fallen into a frantic rhythm. Call and response, enter by key or by force, secure the area. For three levels the NSG commandos encountered no hostility, just a trail of corpses and occasional resistance from petrified guests. Waving their passports and ID cards, the liberated were ushered out of the hotel to a temporary command center where police cross-checked their names with hotel records to ensure no gunmen were hiding among them. Still others with medical conditions were whisked away to nearby hospitals.

Shots were fired at ATS personnel on the terrace of the Centre for Performing Arts. Word was relayed to Lieutenant Colonel Sharma that they appeared to have come from the eighteenth floor. Rather than move there directly and risk an ambush, he opted to clear the top floors first and consolidate his position. At 3:30, he moved down to the nineteenth floor and discovered the bodies of three women. One was that of Lo Hoei Yen, the lawyer from Singapore. This was the floor where the Turkish couple said they were being held; it was fair to assume the gunmen might be waiting there, possibly alternating between the eighteenth and nineteenth floors.

Lieutenant Colonel Sharma then got a message that four men had been sighted on the roof. The snipers were not sure if they should fire or not, and were told to wait. After several minutes, the group raised a white cloth and another NSG squad was dispatched. It was the four lucky survivors from the stairwell shooting. Bleeding from their wounds, they had hidden for hours behind a cooling system until they knew police were within reach.

Visibility was low on level eighteen. Rajesh Kadam, the assistant chief of hotel security who was guiding the commandos, knocked on the door of Room 1856. There was no answer, so Kadam slid the master key into the lock and slowly opened the door. Shots rang out from within the room and the team retreated to the staircase. One member, Major Saurabh Shah, was shot once in the leg, but no one was seriously injured. Lieutenant Colonel Sharma radioed the snipers on the eleventh floor of the NCPA with their location. They worked out a quick plan for a coordinated attack. The snipers would shoot out the windows and pin down the gunmen from the outside, while commandos advanced on the room from the inside. It was now after five o’clock. The team took their positions.

5:07 P.M. India TV live broadcast.

After hours of trying, Imran finally got through the jammed phone lines of India TV. He put on a Kashmiri accent and, as his handlers had instructed, claimed to be from the Deccan Mujahideen.

“We want to negotiate with the government. Only then will we let the hostages go,” he said.

The woman anchor interrupted to ask Imran his motives.

“Do you know how many Muslims are killed in Kashmir by your armed forces? Give them their freedom, why are you creating such a mess there? How much injustice can we tolerate? How much can we sacrifice?”

Imran grew fevered, expressing his anger at Israel for interfering.

“You call their Army staff to visit Kashmir. Why? Who are they to come to Jammu and Kashmir. This is a matter between us and Hindus . . . the Hindu government. Why does Israel come here?”

“Imran,” the anchor interrupted again, “you claim that you are in Nariman House. How many of your friends are there in Nariman House?”

“We know how to survive . . . how to claim our rights . . .”

After Imran hung up, his handlers called to congratulate him.

Evening. Taj Hotel.

Major Unnikrishnan was torn. The woman on the other end of the line was begging him to save her life. Her name was Florence Martis. A hotel employee in her early twenties, she had locked herself the night before into an office room on the second floor of the north wing after hearing gunshots. She was panicked and thirsty. The desperation in her voice tugged at him and swelled frustrations that had festered overnight.

A black police car with darkly tinted windows is riddled with bullet holes. A red siren, intact, perches atop the roof.
A bullet-riddled police vehicle outside the Trident-Oberoi hotel (Apoorva Guptay).
A man dressed in the manner of an English Bobby, carrying a flashlight, walks past a fire truck. His mouth is open, as if shouting.
A fireman calls for assistance outside the Oberoi (Apoorva Guptay).

The massive sixth floor blast and resulting fire had destroyed the lights in much of the old Taj. As the major, aided by night-vision goggles, methodically led his teams through the blackened corridors of the south wing, the few people they were able to rescue were outweighed by the mounting numbers of the dead. Among them: the wife and two sons of the hotel’s general manager, Karambir Kang. The door-to-door searches were brutal. One stubborn gunman managed to wound two of the major’s men in a brief encounter. When they counter-attacked with grenades, the gunman used a hostage as a human shield and escaped. A fire choked the floor, forcing the commandos to regroup.

Better to move than wait, the major resolved. With two squads sent to the third floor to provide cover from above, Unnikrishnan led a third through a kitchen passageway and up to the second floor but could not locate the office where Florence Martis was holed up. At 9 P.M., a third effort was mounted. This time, the gunmen found them—an ambush. The major and a subordinate, Sunil Kumar Jodha, made it up the central staircase to the first floor; the rest of his men were pinned down by bullets and grenades that rained down from multiple directions at once.

Jodha was hit once, then again and again. Eight times in all. Major Unnikrishan dragged him out of the line of fire and returned a blistering volley with his MP-5. Another commando who had crept up behind Jodha helped carry him away. But the major was determined to push the engagement. “Don’t come behind me,” he shouted as he climbed back up the stairs. He took a right down the hallway and braced himself behind a wall and fired diagonally toward the muzzle flashes at the other end of the corridor. They appeared to be coming from the Palm Lounge.

Major Unnikrishnan bolted forward to catch the gunman who was hiding behind the left door. Unbeknownst to him, however, an accomplice waited behind the wall on the other side. As soon as the major swung around to take out the first gunman, he was surprised by a burst from the second. He buckled to the ground, squeezing off several errant rounds as he fell.

6 P.M. Oberoi Hotel.

The snipers bullets had smashed out the windows of Room 1856, and a gunman, crouched under the sill, had stood to shoot back. On that signal, commandos down the hall poured in a torrent of heavy fire to overwhelm the gunmen. The shooting was so intense that fire started in the room, triggering the automatic sprinkler system. Rehman and Fahadullah turned on all the taps in the bathroom, which combined to flood the area with several inches of water. This put the fire out. But the gunmen were trapped.

The chasm of the atrium left just two paths for escape, both guarded by teams of commandos. One of the gunmen lobbed a grenade from the room. The commandos, firmly in place, were not hit and returned fire. The gunmen seemed frustrated, even confused, by their refusal to retreat. One of them shouted: “Have you gone mad? Why are you shooting?” He was answered with more gunfire. By now, the smoke had cleared, and his figure was faintly outlined by a ceiling light. Lieutenant Colonel Sharma, poised directly across the cavernous atrium from Room 1856, had his first open shot. He took it. The wounded gunman slid behind a concrete wall.

“Why are you fighting under cover?” he shouted angrily. “If you have the guts, come out and fire.” “You are the ones hiding,” Sharma shot back. “If you have more courage, then you come out in the open.”

Nighttime came, and the blacked out hotel sank into darkness. Occasionally, the commandos could hear cries of pain from the room but nothing more. The stalemate held until dawn when a commando fired a volley that connected with the gunman’s head and chest. He collapsed and the commandos moved in, fingers at their triggers.

They found the room torn apart by shrapnel, wire ducts hanging from the roof, and puddles soaking the carpet. One of the shots had passed through the eye of the first gunman. His rifle lay across his lap, a pistol on the floor next to him. Aside from weapons and a cell phone, there was a student ID card in his pocket. The ring and middle fingers of his left hand were missing. A second gunman, found on the floor of the bathroom by the door, did not respond when shots were fired at him. He’d been dead for some time. There was no one else.

7:45 P.M. Nariman House.

The gunmen were growing weary. Nasir was asleep on the floor. Imran spoke repeatedly with his handler, trying to stay awake and committed.

For nearly twenty-four hours now they had remained holed up with their hostages—Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich and Yocheved Orpaz—bound on the floor and begging for their lives. But the nanny had escaped with the rabbi’s son, and now the airwaves were filled with news that the gunmen had killed hostages, including the boy’s parents. Imran was beginning to realize that there would be no negotiation; the Indian government would not allow a swap of Kasab and the Nariman House gunmen, or any Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists in Indian jails, for the lives of the Israeli women he still had in custody. He had done exactly as his handler instructed: he had set aside two magazines and three grenades, in anticipation of a final assault, and he was expending the rest of his ammunition to prolong the engagement. But Imran was drained.

His handler knew Indian authorities could mount an attack at any moment, and the gunmen needed to be alert. Reports would later surface that the gunmen, in preparation for the attack, had injected a mix of steroids, cocaine, and LSD to keep them awake and deaden their senses to the carnage they were poised to inflict, but anything they could have taken would have worn off long before. Imran was sinking into exhaustion and despair. His resolve to murder was waning, and his handler was trying to persuade him that killing the hostages was in Imran’s own best interest.

“Keep in mind that the hostages are of use only as long as you do not come under fire because of their safety,” he argued. “If you are still threatened, then don’t saddle yourself with the burden of the hostages.”

Imran was groggy and barely responsive. “Yes,” he said. “We shall do accordingly. God willing.”

The handler also reminded Imran of the conversation with Rabbi Shemtov and the rumors now circulating that Israel had appealed to the Indian government for the right to intercede, a request India had flatly refused.

“If the hostages are killed,” the handler reasoned, “it will sour relations between India and Israel.” “So be it,” Imran murmured. “God willing.”
A trio of soldiers rush through the night, wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, carrying rifles.
Police encircle Nariman House (Apoorva Guptay).
A police officer stands on the side of a street, hands on his hips.
A policeman outside Nariman House (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

8:40 P.M. Nariman House.

Imran’s handler was growing impatient. An hour had passed and the gunmen still had not shot the remaining hostages.

Handler: Just shoot them now. Get rid of them. Because you could come under fire at any time and you’ll only end up leaving them behind.

Imran: Everything’s quiet here for now.

Handler: Shoot them in the back of the head.

Imran: Sure. Just as soon as we come under fire.

Handler: No. Don’t wait any longer. You never know when you might come under attack.

Imran: God willing.

Handler: I’ll stay on the line.

The line went silent for fifteen seconds—with no sound of shots, no voices.

Imran: Hello?

Handler: Do it. Do it. I’m listening. Do it.

Imran: What, shoot them?

Handler: Yes, do it. Sit them up and shoot them in the back of the head.

Imran: [Nasir] is asleep. He hasn’t been feeling too well.

Handler: I’ll call you back in half an hour. You can do it then.

9:20 P.M. Nariman House.

The news was reporting that the gunmen at the Oberoi were dead and inspection of their bodies revealed that they had sustained multiple wounds to their hands, fingers shot entirely off. It appeared that, in lining up their victims in the stairwell to be gunned down, they had not accounted for the ricochet of their high-velocity bullets. A number of shots had passed completely through their victims and come hurtling back. Their handler had new instructions.

Handler: Stand the women up in a doorway so that when the bullet goes through their heads it then goes outside, instead of ricocheting back into your room.

Imran: Okay.

Handler: Do one of them now, in the name of God. You’ve tied them up, right?

Imran: Yeah. I’ll untie their feet.

Handler: Just stand them up. If they’re tied up, leave them tied up.

Imran protested that he didn’t want to kill the two women in the room where he had holed up with Nasir.

Handler: It’ll only take two shots. Do it in the room where you are now.

Imran: All right, yes.

Handler: Do it. Shoot them and shove them over to one side of the room.

9:30 P.M. Nariman House.

Imran: Please don’t be angry. I’ve rejiggered things a bit and now . . .

Handler: Have you done the job yet or not?

Imran: We were just waiting for you to call back, so we could do it while you’re on the phone.

Handler: Do it, in God’s name.

Imran: Just a sec . . . hold the line . . .

The sound of jostling. A burst of gunfire. Silence. More jostling.

Handler: That was one of them, right?

Imran: Both.

10:26 P.M. Nariman House.

Imran was cratering. With the hostages dead, he knew his fate was sealed, and he was losing the will to go on.

“Brother, you have to fight,” his handler told him. “This is a matter of prestige of Islam. Fight so that your fight becomes a shining example. Be strong in the name of Allah.” Imran was completely spent and sliding toward sleep. His handler worried he might surrender or allow himself to be surprised. “You may feel tired or sleepy,” the voice on the phone told him, “but the Soldiers of Islam have left everything behind. Their mothers, their fathers, their homes. Brother, you have to fight for the victory of Islam. Be strong.” “Amen,” Imran said.

V. By the Grace of Allah

A man slides down a rope from a large helicopter onto the roof of a building.
An Indian commando rappels from a helicopter during the final assault on the Nariman House (Pedro Ugarte / AFP / Getty Images).

November 28. 7:23 A.M. Nariman House.

To the thump of rotor blades from an MI-17 helicopter, a line of NSG commandos readied to slither down a hanging rope to the roof of Nariman House. Alert to their movement, the gunmen tried to get a shot off from the windows but were foiled by snipers’ cover fire, which blasted what glass remained from the upper-floor windows. Intercepts of their phone calls made in the middle of the night indicated that all of the hostages had been executed. The gunmen had abandoned negotiation, so the only move left was a final assault on the building. Again, the approach was top-down: assault from the roof and force the gunmen toward the exits where additional commandos were waiting.

A man slides down a rope from a large helicopter onto the roof of a building.
A commando slides toward the roof of the Nariman House (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

Indian television crews were carrying everything live, and Imran’s handlers in Pakistan were watching, reporting what they could see.

Handler: Fifteen men have climbed down on your rooftop right now.

Imran: They are standing in front of the windows as well.

Handler: What are you saying? Can you see anything there?

Imran: They are firing in the front.

For several heated minutes, the gunman and the handler debated a strategy to protect their position. Another man abruptly took the phone.

Handler 2: You do this. Go towards the roof, throw a grenade at them; and fire at them before they can fire at you. Do this now, in the name of Allah.

Imran: Okay, we will go, remembering the name of Allah.

Handler 2: Bismillah-e-Rehman-e-Rahim.

A helmeted soldier looks out of a window at the top of a flight of stairs. He carries a Heckler & Koch MP5 variant, a considerably more advanced rifle than the bolt-action, small-magazined firearms carried by other soldiers.
A National Security Guard observes the assault from his position in a neighboring building (Saurabh Das / AP Photo).

Noon. Taj Hotel.

In the best of times, when the chandeliers sparkled over gala wedding parties soaked with champagne and music, the Taj ballroom pulsed with life. In the dark, it was suffocating. An hour earlier, Colonel Kandwal had uncovered the body of Major Unnikrishnan in the lounge. Now Kandwal and his commandos were tracking Unnikrishnan’s killers through an ambush-ready void. The passive night-vision goggles they carried were useless without some light source to pick up and magnify. The colonel could only hope the gunmen were just as blind as he was.

Shots shattered the silence. But where were they coming from? Outside, on the seafront, a grenade smashed the pavement and injured three policemen. It appeared to have been thrown from a window at Wasabi, an Asian-themed restaurant on the first floor. Snipers held their aim on the windows; some took positions on a fire truck in case any of them appeared long enough for a shot. The gunmen were running out of space to maneuver, though munitions seemed to be in ample supply. More grenades flew out of the window every so often, jarring security forces below.

It was almost 6 P.M.—more than five hours after they had entered the ballroom—when Colonel Kandwal and his team finally emerged into the hallway that led to Wasabi restaurant. Based on the ground he’d cleared and wireless reports from officers on the street, he knew the gunmen were hemmed in on at least two sides. Near the restaurant’s entrance, a GPS device lay on the ground next to some empty ammo clips and 9-volt batteries. After securing the kitchen entrance, the commandos approached the two doors into the restaurant. One was blocked with a refrigerator. Figuring the batteries might be wired to an IED, they rigged it with their own explosives and blew the door. A volley of gunfire came from the back of the room.

The gunmen’s location confirmed, the colonel contacted his commanding officer who set up commandos just outside the Harbor Bar on the floor below, which was linked to Wasabi by a spiral staircase. Others shifted to guard the two bar exits that opened on the ground floor. The gunmen were nearly cornered, but well dug in. When commandos tried to surge through the doorway, they were met with heavy fire and had to fall back.

Kasab Interrogation: Part III

“I don’t like lies, Kasab.”

Rakesh Maria, the tall, stern director of Mumbai’s crime branch, was growing impatient with his prisoner. During the first session with another officer, Kasab portrayed himself as the victim of an overbearing father who had pressured him into joining the Lashkar to help support his poor family. But Maria, a veteran of some of the city’s toughest terror cases and soon to be made chief investigator of the Mumbai attacks, didn’t believe this story. He decided to try deception. He told Kasab that several of his cohorts had already been arrested and given up every detail about his origins, experience in the Lashkar, the Mumbai operation.

Kasab changed his story. He said he’d dropped out of school years earlier and moved to Lahore to live with a relative. Decamping for Rawalpindi, he supplemented menial work as a construction worker with nighttime robberies carried out with a friend named Shafiq. They looked for weapons to up the stakes but had no luck. So they eventually went to a Laskhar market stall and volunteered, hoping they’d get guns and training. They were directed to a nearby office and interviewed. After filling out several forms, the pair was given bus fare to Muridke, the Lashkar headquarters, for a three-week induction period. The next phase took place outside a village in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The firearms training they sought was finally theirs, rounded out with lectures on Islam; injustices visited on Kashmiri Muslims in India were a leitmotif. At one session, Hafiz Saeed gave a lecture on the importance of fighting, and dying, for Islam. In short order, Kasab went from small-time criminal to believer. He was not alone. There was no going back.

As the training intensified, they were instructed in the use of rocket launchers, mortars, and explosives in the foothills of Kashmir. After three months, thirty-two young men were selected by Uncle Zaki for jihad operations. Half were sent on a mission unknown to Kasab. Three escaped from the camp. Those who remained, he said, were sent back to Muridke and trained to use GPS instruments and marine navigation. One day, six of these men went to Kashmir for an operation. They were never seen again.

Three others with previous operations experience joined the group, including Ismail Khan, the designated field leader of the Mumbai group. Their training cycle complete, the ten young men were shifted to a safe house in Karachi in the second week of September and informed they would launch a massive assault on Mumbai. Kasab was assigned to the train station. With Khan he studied digital and hand-drawn maps and video reconnaissance gathered by Lashkar agents based in India.

The attack was delayed for a month—for what reason Kasab didn’t know. “We were given the best food and the best clothes,” Kasab explained. “Uncle Zaki said we could have anything in the world we wanted before setting out for Mumbai.” The group members, who had always addressed each other by code names, forbidden from saying more, now exchanged personal details. They reminisced about their homes and shared thoughts on the afterlife and the pride their parents would feel in their martyred sons. They imagined the village ceremonies that, in line with Lashkar tradition, would be held in their honor, attended by ranking officials and mujahideen. Inspired orations about their jihad would be made and sweets distributed. Money would be paid, by the grace of Allah, to their families.

5:39 P.M. Nariman House.

Havildar Gajendra Singh had been the first commando through the rooftop entrance. One of the gunmen was waiting for him. Whoomp. A grenade blast sprayed Singh with shrapnel, and a hail of bullets riddled his body. But other commandos followed. The building rattled from exchanges of automatic weapons fire and the explosions of grenades, a pattern that would continue as the day wore on. Commandos were closing in on the pair, but this was a fight to the end. Singh’s death had offered the terrorists an eleventh-hour adrenaline bump.

A young soldier wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet peer over the top of a car, pointing a Kalashnikov-style rifle over its roof.
A police officer outside the Nariman House (Priyam Dhar).
A soldier, clad all in black with a helmet and a face covering, leans over a railing on a balcony, looking down while clutching a Heckler & Koch MP5 assault weapon.
A commando on the roof of the Nariman House (Saurabh Das / AP Images).

Now, with dusk threatening, security forces launched a barrage of rockets at the fourth floor from a window across the street. The impact rocked Nariman House at its foundations, and left a smoldering hole. Despite the dense black smoke spilling out from all sides of the fifth floor, the NSG advanced down to level four, where the gunmen were trapped and killed. The NSG officers cleared the rest of the building and made their way down to the ground floor and out into the street. A celebration erupted. The commandos raised their rifles for the cameras.

The side of a building, apparently damaged by an attack of some sort. We can see three stories. The middle story has the window blown out. Inside, on a bed, somebody is lying. Whether he is alive or dead, we do not know.
The bodies of two female victims are visible through a blasted out window at the Nariman House (Vinukumar Ranganathan).

Joshi and several friends were asked to help remove the nine bodies inside. Two of the women victims were stretched across a window-side bed with their hands tied. The rest were scattered on the floor, including one of the kosher inspectors, whose flesh, according to a coroner’s report, was so decomposed that he was probably killed the first night. Joshi and his friends struggled to pick him up.

November 29. Early Morning. Taj Hotel.

The Taj was shaken by synchronized grenade explosions—this time by NSG commandos. By tying them together, one detonating after another, the concussion was intensified. Swathes of the Wasabi restaurant and Harbour Bar were ablaze. Compelled to move by the encroaching smoke, the gunmen descended to a corner of the Harbour Bar where commandos delivered a blitz of firepower. The police at street level could hear muffled screams from within. “For God’s sake, please stop this! We can’t take it anymore!”

The gunfire and grenades kept pouring in, relentless. Shortly after dawn, one of the gunmen smashed backward through a front window and was instantly struck down by waiting commandos. When the fires inside were finally snuffed out, the charred remains of his three accomplices lay on the floor.

December 2008. The Aftermath.

Mumbai is no stranger to terror. But the 26/11 attacks—as they came to be known—set a grim new standard. Over the course of sixty hours, 163 people were killed and more than three hundred were wounded at multiple sites across the southern end of India’s commercial capital. Among those killed were twelve police officers, two NSG commandos, and four more security personnel, women and children, and forty-six Muslims. The overall toll does not include nine of the gunmen who accomplished their goals: a rampant, news-dominating killing spree heard around the world that ended with their own deaths, while India and Pakistan reverted to knee-jerk hostile postures.

In hindsight, many lives might have been saved had more decisive action been taken by Indian authorities at critical junctures. Chief among the many critical moments, where a bolder response might have mitigated the damage done, were the hour that elapsed at CST before the gunmen moved on to Cama Hospital and the almost three hours they spent unchallenged in Room 632 of the Taj hotel where they could have been contained. As it happened, the courage shown by some individual police officers at the outset of the attack, when the city was gripped by fear, was counteracted by a kind of rigor mortis that seeped down from the top of the chain of command. This failure to react creatively was not shared by the attackers themselves. Their ability to adapt sustained their mission and increased its carnage.

A former director of India’s external intelligence agency has asserted that information gathered prior to the attack was sufficient to foil the plot beforehand. He is not alone. It is now known that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intercepted several suspicious phone conversations between Lashkar operatives in advance. In mid-September, a seaborne operation was discussed that would target a hotel near the Gateway of India, which sits across from the Taj. Less than a week later, in another conversation, the operative identified hotels that were being considered; they included the Taj. Then, on November 19, a voice on a monitored satellite phone said, “We will reach Bombay between nine and eleven.” The point of origin was traced to Indian territorial waters, and the information was relayed to the Navy. A vessel was finally dispatched to the original location, by which time the source had moved on. (The attackers landed at Badhwar Park 8:30 P.M., just a half hour shy of the caller’s estimated time of arrival).

Additionally, it emerged that the mobile phone numbers used by the attackers were known to the Indian Intelligence Bureau five days before they struck. A police operative had infiltrated a camp and provided SIM cards to be tracked. A note attached to the list recommended that they be carefully monitored. They weren’t. In fact, the enterprising operative was later arrested as a possible conspirator and held in custody for weeks during which the IB accused the police of exceeding their mandate. In this fractious climate, the broader constellation of dots was never connected. In a security conference of chief ministers following the attack, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lamented rigid bureaucracy and stressed the “need to break down the barriers to information-sharing among the various intelligence agencies.” More important than gathering better intelligence, he said, was an efficient analysis of the intelligence available.

Men stand in an alleyway, and people can be seen walking by on a perpendicular street. The wall is cratered with dozens of bullet holes, sprayed over a fifteen-foot-wide, six-foot tall segment. Each of them is circled in red, and one of them is labelled 'AK-47'.
Investigators counted and numbered the bullet holes outside the Nariman House (Jason Motlagh).

Police on the ground were likewise outmaneuvered. Officers arriving on the scene did so in small groups, and without coordination. Information relayed to command was stuck in a bottleneck. Urgent calls for reinforcements made by officers taking heavy fire were noted and left hanging. Those who wanted to press the fight against the gunmen were ordered, invariably, by superiors to stand down and wait for commandos. Despite previous attacks, the NSG commandos expert in urban combat scenarios were stationed outside of Delhi, a two-hour flight away. Their journey was stalled by a spate of delays, during which sixteen security officers died. Pitted against skilled militants with automatic weapons, grenades, and GPS technologies, most were saddled with defective or outmoded equipment (some carbines and revolvers dating to the World War I-era)—or none at all. Available body armor was shown to have repeatedly failed tests for high-powered rifles. The rounds that killed Officer Karkare near Cama Hospital, for instance, reportedly broke through chest plates he was wearing. He and officers Salaskar and Kamte lay on the ground for at least forty minutes before an ambulance arrived.

Some corrective measures have since been taken, with mixed results. Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor, the man who presided over the official chaos, was eventually transferred. Five first response teams with commando training have been formed and positioned around the city, equipped with MP5 sub-machine guns and MP9 pistols. Officials say they can deploy anywhere in less than twenty minutes. An elite unit, Force 1, comparable to the NSG, was finalized this month. Bulletproof and light-armored vehicles have been introduced to police, along with more advanced tactical weaponry and improved training for incoming recruits. Several speedboats needed to patrol the coast have also reached them, and cell phones and SIM cards have been distributed to fishermen serving as lookouts. The Taj hired a private security firm from Israel whose personnel carry concealed weapons to go with extensive surveillance. Similar precautions are expected at the Oberoi when it opens in the new year. At CST station, police now patrol the platforms with Kalashnikovs. Metal detectors have been installed near the entrances, though no one seems to pass through them. Some seasoned police officers on duty during the attacks (who asked to remain anonymous) betrayed skepticism over the city-wide upgrades, claiming it’s a case of show over substance. Cosmetic changes to systemic problems might fool the public, they said, but not those determined to do them harm.

With Lashkar fingerprints all over the attack, the Indian government was quick to blame Pakistan. Pakistan initially denied that the gunmen were Pakistani, then admitted their citizenship but insisted that it had no control. Tense relations between the countries soured further. New Delhi sent dossiers to Islamabad to make its case. A six-page summary, mostly based on Kasab’s testimony, underscored the extent of Hafiz Saeed’s involvement. Pakistani authorities eventually arrested seven men linked to the attack, including Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi alias Uncle Zaki, the Lashkar’s chief of operations. Critics say their efforts have been half-hearted. In June, Saeed was detained, and let go, by a Lahore court citing a lack of evidence against him, to the ire of Indian and Western officials who believe he was the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks. Doubts about Pakistan’s pledge to crack down on the Lashkar are buoyed by alleged links its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) maintains with the group it helped create to antagonize India. Retired ISI and military officers are said to continue their role as go-between, yet particulars are scant.

Even if there is genuine will in the political establishment to change course, a stepped up campaign against Taliban-led militancy along the Afghan border has become the priority, in part due to intense US pressure. There is further speculation about a rift in the Lashkar ranks. Some analysts believe Zaki may have orchestrated the attacks independent of Saeed, the spiritual leader, who favors caution. Regardless, Lashkar’s operational structure is intact, with membership running into the tens of thousands. Operatives say interest and funding have increased since the Mumbai attacks. And, according to intelligence officials and current and former members, militants are poised to strike India again.

In the meantime, those people whose lives were shattered on 26/11 have struggled to recapture some sense of normalcy in the twelve months since the attacks. Fongen Fernandes returned to Re-Fresh snack bar three days after the CST shootings. The commuter throngs, he said, were there too, like it never happened. “Death may come in any form, whether I’m home, or asleep, or working here,” he mused. “So what else to do?” Bullet holes in the expensive plate glass of his workplace linger as reminders. They still mark the walls of the Leopold Café, too. When Farhang Jehani reopened the restaurant four days after the attack, he made a decision not to repair them, not to save money but as a symbol of Mumbai’s resilience. “We plucked up our courage of spirit with love and support from customers from all over the world to keep going, like we always do in this city,” he said. “Everything here is the same.” Isaque Bagwan is still standing by at his second story Colaba office should trouble arise. He was awarded the President’s Gallantry Medal for a third time in his thirty-five-year career for his bravery at Nariman House, which is still shuttered. Instead of being scapegoated for his role, Vishwas Nangre Patil was validated when fuller details of his predicament at the Taj came out. Parambir Singh, who responded at the Oberoi, was promoted to inspector general of the coastal district, Maharashtra, a plum assignment that will limit his time in south Mumbai. Renovations to the old wing of the Taj are ongoing. A memorial was placed in the lobby of the Taj tower in honor of those who died; it is a constant reminder of the violence there, but most of the staff has stayed on. Today a Sikh doorman welcomes guests, same as the one at the Trident, but he escorts guests through a door framed by metal detectors and ushers their bags through x-ray machines.

In a wide alley between rows of shabby four-story residential buildings, a three-story-tall hay bale pile supports an effigy of the Mumbai terrorist caught on camera, wearing his distinctive blue shirt, carry a backpack, and holding a silver gun. Below him is a large sculpture of a grenade.
A Holika Dahan effigy of Ajmal Kasab stands in a Mumbai neighborhood ahead of the Hindu festival of Holi, when the effigy was set ablaze (AFP PHOTO/ Indranil Mukjherjee / AFP/ Getty Images).

Late September 2009. Afternoon. Arthur Road Jail.

The Arthur Road jail was built to accommodate about a thousand prisoners but its crumbling warrens in the city center typically hold well over three times that number. When it was decided that Kasab would be held there, some authorities thought it was too risky. Mumbai’s oldest jail is also its largest, a place where underworld figures have a wide berth. It was feared that some might try to kill the attack’s sole survivor. To accommodate him, a special “explosion-resistant, bullet-proof” cell was constructed. As a secondary precaution, a special court was set up inside the jail.

On the 105th day of the trial, the lacquered press benches were mostly empty. A shopkeeper who lives near Nariman House described what he saw inside the shell-shocked structure in the siege’s aftermath. “Sixteen empty 9mm shells on the second floor . . . blood on the bookshelves . . . the fourth floor of the building was also in damaged condition.” The judge, wearing a cloak and white barrister’s bands around his neck, turned to the court recorder and recited the witness’s statements. He yawned. There were four more hours to go before the weekend recess.

Seated in a wooden holding pen were Kasab and his co-defendents, Fahim Ansari and Ahmed Sabahuddin, Lashkar operatives instrumental in the planning of the attack. Both had already spent months in police custody when the attack occurred—arrested in connection with an earlier attack in Uttar Pradesh. They were surrounded by four Mumbai police officers who did not break their stares. Thickly bearded and waif-like, Sabahuddin seemed as if he might crack if rough-handled. He mouthed a prayer with his eyes closed. Ansari held a cold gaze that was sometimes directed at the gallery, his arms crossed defiantly. The attackers had followed the maps he drew and studied video footage he collected of the attack sites. Almost entirely hidden from view in a white jump suit, Kasab didn’t move. His large, brooding forehead hung low under a shock of hair. He looked resigned.

A month after the attacks, Rakesh Maria had Kasab brought to his office. The prisoner had until then stayed in solitary confinement and had no idea what had happened to his partners. Maria, deadpan, asked if he’d like to see them; Kasab said he would. An officer was summoned and told to take Kasab to where his friends were being held. Kasab expected a reunion. But they drove to a hospital instead of a prison. Inside the morgue, nine corpses—most burned, some grotesquely mutilated beyond recognition—were rolled out. Stricken by the sight and smell, Kasab begged to leave.

In July, Kasab stunned the Arthur Road courtroom with a confession. “I don’t think I am innocent. My request is that we end the trial and be sentenced.” Existing evidence against him—surveillance tapes, intercepted phone conversations, eyewitness testimonies, forensics, D’Souza’s photograph—was conclusive enough. But Pakistan’s admission that he was a participant was what had sapped the little morale he had left. In front of a rapt audience Kasab corroborated most of what he had previously stated in interviews; however, this time there was no equivocating on the motives. Murder as many as possible—then martyrdom. For your mission to end successfully you must be killed, the handlers had told him. Only martyrs are guaranteed entry to paradise.

The court accepted his plea. But the judge, determined to gain some closure through the grinding machinations of the justice system, ruled that the trial would continue as long as needed to address every charge against Kasab. Weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the crime, testimonies were nearly complete, on the books. The end was always inevitable for the accused; only now its impact had been blunted by rote formality. It was an anticlimax for Kasab. But the delay of his chosen fate will soon be over. A hangman’s rope looms.

Corrections

In the original version of the text, Linda Ragsdale was identified as killed at the Tiffin Restaurant. In fact, despite being shot, she recovered fully.

The date of the assault on India’s parliament in New Delhi was given as December 22, 2001. The correct date was December 13.

We regret the errors.

This article was originally published as a four-part series of blog entries, to each of which many comments were posted by readers, survivors, and journalists. Those may be read at the bottom of each of the original blog entries [1, 2, 3, 4].

0 Comments

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Recommended Reading