Posted on Nov 26, 2020
On the evening of November 26th 2008, on the Colaba peninsula, just to the south of Mumbai, ten heavily armed men landed on a beach. They were to perpetrate what was to be the most horrific terrorist atrocity since 9/11.
Around 90 minutes after their arrival, at the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji railway Terminus, the killing began.
In this initial onslaught, which lasted for over one hour, 58 innocent people were to lose their lives, with more than 100 injured. Eight police officers arriving outside the terminus were also killed. These were the just the first of many officers, heavily outgunned by terrorists armed with AK-47 assault rifles, and who struggled bravely to contain the attack, and who were to die.
The next target was to be the Cama Hospital, but the staff were mercifully able to secure the wards and protect the patients. It was here, however, that Hemant Karkare, chief of the Mumbai anti-terrorist squad was to fall along with other senior police officers.
Bombs planted in taxis then began to explode, killing and injuring even more innocent civilians. These were followed by more bombs in the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace hotels: both to become the scene of a major hostage situation, which was to be the focus of global media attention.
It was here that the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) was was meeting. British MEP Sajjad Karim found himself in the hotel lobby when the terrorists opened fire.
Hiding in the dark barricaded room we’d rushed into to escape the gunfire echoing behind us, the terrifying realisation sank in that I might soon share the same fate as those shot and killed before my eyes just moments ago. This was the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, in late 2008, where terrorists stormed 12 locations and opened fire indiscriminately. I was fortunate; I managed to escape. But 166 others didn’t.
One parliamentary assistant, a Hungarian citizen, was reportedly injured by gunfire.
The ensuing hostage crisis lasted until the morning of November 29th when Indian special forces stormed both hotels killing nine of the terrorists and rescuing 550 people. A further 60 who were being held captive at the Nariman House Jewish centre in the city were also rescued.
In total, more than 170 were murdered, and more than 300 wounded, some severely, during the course of the events.
The one surviving gunman revealed the group to be members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, (LeT), a Pakistan-based group whose aims are, according to an April 2018 CIA report, to “annex the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan and foment Islamic insurgency in India; attack Western, Indian, and Afghan interests in Afghanistan; support the Taliban’s return to power; enhance its recruitment networks and paramilitary training in Afghanistan, and, ultimately, install Islamic rule throughout South Asia.”
That ten terrorists were able to inflict such horrific casualties and to remain in control of the situation for so long suggests a high level of military training. Evidence points to the men as having been selected from an initial group of up to 40 who, according to the single surviving terrorist, Ajmal Mohammed Amir Kasab, had been instructed in marine warfare at a remote mountain training camp in Muzaffarabad in Pakistani Kashmir.
Although Pakistan outlawed LeT in January 2002, and has sentenced the group’s leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (pictured) to 11 years in jail for financing terrorist operations, the Stanford University based Centre for International Security and Cooperation has stated that “the group’s actions are heavily influenced by Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and aligned with the Pakistani state’s interests. There is little direct evidence of official Pakistani direction or support of LeT, but analysts, intelligence services, and international organisations regularly make links between the two.”
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed continues to roam around freely in Pakistan to this day.
In June 2010 the BBC reported that Pakistan's Punjab province government gave some $1m in 2009 to a charity on a UN terror blacklist, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which has been accused of being a front for LeT.
In June 2018, The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international terror financing and money laundering watchdog, moved Pakistan to its "grey" list of countries - those that are found to be non-compliant on money laundering and terror financing standards - where it remains.
As recently as October of this year, three political activists were shot dead in the Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar said that such killings were being executed at the behest of Pakistan. The Resistance Front (TRF), which is believed to be a shadow group of LeT, claimed responsibility for the killings.
In the context of the wave of Islamic terror attacks - including the recent beheadings in Paris and Nice - it should be noted that LeT is active in Europe, although has not been directly associated with any attacks to date.
However, it is known to have trained foreigners to conduct terrorist operations, including British citizen Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001, and Dhiren Barot, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006 of planning a bombing in London.
Investigations indicate one of the British-born suicide bombers responsible for the July 7th 2005 attacks in London, Shehzad Tanweer, may also have received training at a LeT camp in Pakistan. The UK is a significant source of funding for LeT, despite its being proscribed as a terrorist organisation there.
The November 26th anniversary of the Mumbai attacks of 2008 should be a time for Europe to take stock, and to review its policy in dealing with countries sponsoring terrorism like Pakistan.
Footnote: On November 19th 2020 four members of Jaish E Mohammed, a Pakistan-based Deobandi jihadist Islamic Mujahideen group active in Kashmir, were reported killed during preparation for a terror attack on or around the anniversary of the Mumbai massacre.
Intelligence sources suggest that certain items recovered after the event were sourced from Pakistan.
Jaish E Mohammed were implicated in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack along with Lashkar-e-Taiba, in which 14 people died and more than 20 were injured.
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