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Personal Terrors

The first time a police officer runs his hand up the secret space between my legs, I’m sixteen. I’ve just walked out of a dance. I’m not drunk. In fact, with one exception, I won’t even have a glass of wine until my midtwenties. I’m not high. I’ll never smoke a joint or do ecstasy. I’m certainly not armed. Even firecrackers scare me. But I am almost six-three in my boots. I’m over 270 pounds, which was useful during my aborted stint on my high school football team. And, yes, I’m Black. 

The Cocaine Coast

January 28, 2010

South American cocaine is ferried to Europe through West Africa. Along the way, FARC, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda all get a cut.

Sixty Hours of Terror: “By the Grace of Allah”

November 19, 2009

Editor’s Note—This is the last in a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

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 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 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.


Sixty Hours of Terror: “No Hostages Should Remain Alive”

November 18, 2009

Editor’s Note—This is part three of a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

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).

IV. “No Hostages Should Remain Alive”

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?”


“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.”


Sixty Hours of Terror: “It’s Do or Die”

November 17, 2009

Editor’s Note—This is part two of a four-part series [1, 2, 3, 4] on the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

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).

III. “It’s Do or Die”

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 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).

Sixty Hours of Terror

November 16, 2009

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. 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. 

A Kind of Solution

The writer was drinking himself to death. In his first flush of freedom—he had come to Iowa from a land ruled by a military dictatorship—he drowned himself in vodka, and when for the third day running he was rushed to the emergency room with a blood alcohol level that would have killed another man, he was committed for observation. The date was September 10, 2001. That evening, more than eight hours after his last drink, the writer was still dead drunk. The judge who signed his commitment order called the next day, incredulous.

Face-to-Face with Terror: Jessica Stern’s Terror in the Name of God

The American people came face-to-face with the realities of worldwide terrorism following September 11. Although the United States only a few years before had been shocked by our own homegrown terrorists who perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing, we never realized the extent to which religious militancy has come to replace Communism as the primary threat to our security

Putting the War on Terror on the Couch: Vamik Volkan’s Blind Trust

In his new book, Blind Trust, psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan offers starkly different terms for what he sees as a troubling "societal regression." Volkan looks at bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the Bush administration and sees id, ego, and superego; he sees the war on terror as a series of "psychodynamics" and explains foreign policy as trickle-down Freudianism. Welcome to the world of psychopolitics.