Well, there’s been some drama in the world while I was off eating. So, let’s catch up. First, a few of the more important things I read over the past couple of days:
As the terrible events of Wednesday night unfolded, the staff of what had been Bombay’s finest hotel leapt into action. Scores of tales later emerged of unnamed workers hiding guests, barricading doors, tending the vulnerable and issuing orders.
Dalbir Bains, a British businesswoman, was with friends beside the hotel pool when the first crackle of automatic gunfire was heard a short distance away. “We heard shots and saw a man who’d just been shot. The terrorists were just behind us as we ran,” she said.
She made her way upstairs to Sea Lounge, a café on the first floor of the hotel, where the guests were still unaware of the fast-approaching threat. “Within seconds the staff had locked the doors, turned off the lights and told everybody to get on the floor,” she said. “They were fantastic. They saved lives.” Yesterday, as the most sophisticated terror attack to be mounted in India moved into its third day, Indian special forces from the crack Marine Commando Force (Marcos) gave an account of their mission to liberate the Taj – and the scenes of horror that staff and guests had witnessed.
The soldiers said that they were led by a hotel employee as they fought a sequence of running battles with gunmen in corridors and rooms strewn with dead bodies and seriously injured guests.
This is the guy that took all those famous photos…
By the time he managed to capture the killer on camera, Mr D’Souza had already seen two gunmen calmly stroll across the station concourse shooting both civilians and policemen, many of whom, he said, were armed but did not fire back. “I first saw the gunmen outside the station,” Mr D’Souza said. “With their rucksacks and Western clothes they looked like backpackers, not terrorists, but they were very heavily armed and clearly knew how to use their rifles.
“Towards the station entrance, there are a number of bookshops and one of the bookstore owners was trying to close his shop,” he recalled. “The gunmen opened fire and the shopkeeper fell down.”
But what angered Mr D’Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. “There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything,” he said. “At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, ‘Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!’ but they just didn’t shoot back.”
As the gunmen fired at policemen taking cover across the street, Mr D’Souza realised a train was pulling into the station unaware of the horror within. “I couldn’t believe it. We rushed to the platform and told everyone to head towards the back of the station. Those who were older and couldn’t run, we told them to stay put.”
The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D’Souza added: “I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera.”
And now I’m going to put on my completely undeserved police-and-terrorism-expert hat: I think the police are trained to deal with hostage situations to do everything they can not to disturb the situation. Most movie hostage-takers hole themselves up in liquor stores and wave guns around and snivel about their ex-girlfriends but generally wait for some negotiator to get on the line and offer them a million dollars. Whereas terrorists wanna use the extra time to get on killing people. But then if you say to treat it more like a military thing, you’ve got the Columbine example, where the police went from room to room “clearing” the empty building of any potential enemy troops waiting to ambush them from the rear, while the two kids at the end of the hallway kept shooting at defenseless students. So I dunno. Hat off. We’re all caught up to today’s Sunday papers:
The attacks highlight India’s particular vulnerability to terrorist violence. But they are also a warning to any country that values what Mumbai symbolises for Indians: pluralism, enterprise and an open society. Put simply, India’s failure to protect its premier city offers a textbook example for fellow democracies on how not to deal with militant Islam.
The litany of errors is long. Unlike their counterparts in the West, or in east Asia, India’s perpetually squabbling leaders have failed to put national security above partisan politics. The country’s antiterrorism effort is reactive and episodic rather than proactive and sustained. Its public discourse on Islam oscillates between crude anti-Muslim bigotry and mindless sympathy for largely unjustified Muslim grievance-mongering. Its failure to either charm or cow its Islamist-friendly neighbours – Pakistan and Bangladesh – reveals a limited grasp of statecraft.
Sunday Telegraph – Let Bombay remind us: they haven’t gone away, by Peter Clarke (retired this year as head of Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Command)
Is it possible that Britain could suffer carnage on the scale of what happened in Bombay over the past few days? Could hotels, restaurants, railway stations and community centres be raked with machine-gun fire and scores of innocent civilians killed and injured? It’s more than likely that this is exactly what one terrorist, convicted here in 2006, but whose case could not be reported until last year because of his links to other terrorists awaiting trial, wanted to do.
Not many of the British public will have heard of Kazi Nurur Rahman. Fewer still will know that he is the person who wanted to bring a killing spree, such as we saw last week, to Britain.
In the summer of 2005, even as London was still reeling from the July bombings, Rahman, the leader of an east London terrorist cell, was trying to buy machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and missiles. He was neither fantasist nor daydreamer. He had been to terrorist training camps in Pakistan with leaders of the so-called “Fertiliser Plot”, jailed last year for planning to blow up nightclubs and shopping centres in and around London. He had a long history of involvement in violent extremism. And yet his case, since the time when reporting restrictions were eventually lifted in April 2007, has received very little publicity or serious analysis.
I don’t get those press gags on trials at all. Or maybe I do, but just don’t like it.
As the interview we publish today with the former head of the SAS reveals, although precisely such a scenario as the one that took place in Bombay has been discussed in Britain’s anti-terrorist circles, this country is a long way from being adequately prepared to deal with it. There is no force ready and able to cope effectively with a bunch of terrorists who start firing indiscriminately, as the murderers in Bombay did. Instead, the main priority of the British police, to judge by events in London last week, seems to be to arrest members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition when they reveal embarrassing information about Home Office blunders and incompetence.
This is an appalling, indeed criminal, inversion of priorities. Damian Green, the Conservative MP whom the Metropolitan Police sent nine counter-terrorism officers to arrest on Friday, is not a threat to the security of this country. On the contrary, what Mr Green does is essential to the proper functioning of our democracy. There is, however, a true enemy within: the Islamists in Britain who are willing to kill themselves and as many British citizens as they can manage.
The Government has emphasised that its strategy for dealing with terrorism is to give the police greater powers to hold suspected terrorists before they are charged. We did not support the attempt to increase pre-charge detention to 42 days. The horror in Bombay confirms our belief that the Government is using the wrong weapon to combat the threat of terrorism in Britain: what ministers need to do is not to curtail civil liberties, but rather to confront and combat Islamist fanaticism in robust and direct fashion.
Unfortunately, confronting and challenging Islamic extremism is precisely what the Government is not doing. Indeed, it backs extremist groups, and even provides them with public funds, providing they renounce violence. Yet the distance that separates fundamentalist Islam from violent terrorism is wafer-thin. As Ed Husain stresses in today’s Sunday Telegraph, there is a policy of not interfering for fear that extremist groups will take offence.
That article had a sidebar link to this:
Sunday Telegraph – Mumbai attacks: Jihadists see “invasion” as a triumph<br/> In India, some already call it the “Invasion of Bombay” and their country’s 9/11 moment. This is no exaggeration. For, although the deadly raids on India’s economic capital did not claim as many lives as 9/11 did in New York, the psychological impact is likely to be as potent.<br/> By Amir Taheri
And “invasion” would appear to be a good word for it:
The confessions of the clean-shaven, fluent English-speaking 21-year-old Pakistani have given investigators a clearer picture of what had happened last Wednesday.
Azam said he was member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, but the Kashmir-based Pakistani militant group has denied any role in the attacks.
Founded as a guerilla group to fight the Indian army in Kashmir, the group was banned by the Pakistani government after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, but reportedly continues to enjoy the backing of some Pakistani politicians and security officials.
A native of Faridkot in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir, Azam revealed the names of his fellow terrorists, all Pakistani citizens: Abu Ali, Fahad, Omar, Shoaib, Umer, Abu Akasha, Ismail, Abdul Rahman (Bara) and Abdul Rahman (Chhota).
But the 10 men were apparently not the only ones directly involved: Another group, he claimed, had checked themselves into hotels four days before, waiting with weapons and ammunition they had stockpiled in the rooms.
The 10 men in Azam’s group were chosen well: All were trained in marine warfare and had undergone a special course conducted by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Preparations were also detailed, and started early.
Azam and eight others in the team made a reconnaissance trip to Mumbai several months before the attacks, pretending to be Malaysian students. They rented an apartment at Colaba market, near one of their targets, the Nariman House. …
On the evening of Nov 21, Azam’s group set off from an isolated creek in Karachi in a boat. The next day, a large Pakistani vessel with four Pakistanis and crew picked them up, whereupon the group was issued arms and ammunition.
Each man in the assault team was handed six to seven magazines of 50 bullets each, eight hand grenades, one AK-47 assault rifle, an automatic loading revolver, credit cards and a supply of dried fruit. They were, as some media put it, in for the long haul.
A day later, the team came across an Indian-owned trawler, Kuber, which they boarded. They killed four of the fishermen onboard, dumped their bodies into the sea, and forced its skipper Amarjit Singh to sail for India.
The next day, they beheaded the skipper, and one of the gunmen, a trained sailor, took the wheel and headed for the shores of Gujarat, India.
Near Gujarat, the terrorists raised a white flag as two officers of the coast guard approached.
While the officers questioned them, one of the terrorists grappled with one of them, slit his throat and threw his body into the boat. The group then ordered the other officer to help them get to Mumbai.
On Nov 26, the team reached the Mumbai coast.
Four nautical miles out, they were met by three inflatable speedboats. They killed the other coast guard officer, transferred into the speedboats and proceeded to Colaba jetty as dusk settled.
The Kuber was found later with the body of the 30-year-old captain onboard.
At Badhwar Park in Cuffe Parade – just three blocks away from Nariman House – the 10 men got off, stripped off the orange windbreakers they had been wearing and made sure to take out their large, heavy backpacks.
It was there that they were spotted by fisherman Prasan Dhanur, who was preparing his boat, and harbour official Kashinath Patil, 72, who was on duty nearby.
“Where are you going?” Patil asked them. “What’s in your bags?”
The men replied: “We don’t want any attention. Don’t bother us.”
Thinking little of it, Dhanur and Patil, who said they did not see the guns hidden in the backpacks, did not call the police, and watched the 10 young men walk away.
Then the carnage started.