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The 2008 Mumbai attacks: 26/11

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Despite all the previous terrorist outrages against Mumbai, none succeeded in capturing the world’s attention in the same way as the attacks which rocked the city in November 2008, during which a group of Pakistani gunmen embarked on a three-day orgy of murder and destruction at a string of high-profile locations across the city – India’s own 9/11, and a chilling display of Islamic militancy at its most deadly.

The ten attackers, all men in their early twenties, travelled by boat from Karachi (hijacking an Indian fishing trawler and killing its crew en route) before coming ashore at Cuffe Parade on the evening of 26 November. Two of the attackers headed to CST station, where they opened fire in the main hall, killing 58 people before fleeing the scene, after which they continued to run amok across the city, machine-gunning seven Indian policemen and attempting to massacre patients and staff at nearby Cama Hospital before being intercepted by security forces. Two others headed to Leopold’s café and began firing into the crowd, murdering ten people before escaping. Two more seized control of the Jewish centre at Nariman House, holding its six inhabitants hostage – all were subsequently killed, apparently after having been tortured. Two bombs were also left in taxis which later exploded, killing a further five people.

The main focus of the attacks, however, were two of the city’s most prestigious hotels, the Oberoi Trident and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. At both, gunmen entered, firing randomly at guests in the hotels’ public areas, before retreating upstairs, where they began setting off explosives and taking large numbers of guests hostage. The sight of smoke pouring out of the central dome of the old wing of the Taj became an almost permanent fixture on TV screens around the world, as Indian commandos began the hazardous task of flushing the terrorists out of the hotels and freeing their hostages, fighting floor by floor to clear the buildings – a job which took three days in the case of the Taj.

By the end of the attacks, some 172 people were dead, including 28 foreigners from sixteen different countries ranging from Mexico to Mauritius as well as 17 Indian policemen and commandos (including Mumbai’s own Anti-Terrorism Chief, Hemant Karkare). Given the chosen targets, including two landmark luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a café heavily patronized by westerners, suspicions inevitably pointed towards the various militant Islamist operations based in Pakistan. The Pakistani government initially denied that any of its citizens had been involved in the attacks, attempting to place the blame on jihadi organizations in Bangladesh and Indian criminals. Despite Pakistani denials, however, it soon emerged that all ten gunmen were in fact Pakistanis, all of whom had been trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the leading Pakistan-based militant organizations, originally founded to fight the Indian presence in Kashmir and subsequently connected with a string of high-profile attacks in other parts of India. Interrogations of the one surviving terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, revealed that the gunmen had been hand-picked during Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan, given advanced training in weapons and explosives and sent into “battle” fuelled by a heady mix of LSD and cocaine. Kasab also stated that the gunmen had hoped to kill five thousand people, an aim in which they mercifully failed. In November 2009, Pakistani authorities belatedly arrested seven men in connection with the attacks, though the Indian government continues to insist that those self-same authorities have not done enough to bring those responsible – the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba in particular – to justice.

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