On 26 November 2008, four terrorists entered the Taj, Mumbai, and took over the hotel. What followed was nearly three days of terror as the world watched the great hotel go up in flames. Now comes the ultimate account of that attack. Telling the stories of guests, staff, police and the National Security Guard, and piecing together transcripts of calls between the terrorists and their handlers, The Siege takes you right into the war zone, showing you what it was like to be in the Taj on those fateful days.
Here are heart-stopping stories of guests and staff-of a couple about to celebrate their wedding, a British-Cypriot shipping magnate whose state-of-the-art yacht is docked in front of the hotel, and a young Taj employee who survives because of a stranger's phone call. Here too are revelations about the training of the terrorists, Headley's double game and the shocking incompetence of the Indian security forces. Terrifying, gripping and deeply moving, The Siege is unputdownable.
Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy are the authors of four books, most recently the acclaimed The Meadow, about the 1995 Kashmiri kidnapping that changed the face of modern terrorism. For sixteen years they worked a foreign correspondents and investigative reporters for the Sunday Times and the Guardian. In 2009 the One World Trust named them British Journalists of the Year, having won Foreign Correspondents of the Year in 2004. They co-produce documentaries, including Kashmir's Torture Trail, winner of a 2013 Amnesty International Media Award. Currently they are filming several new projects in South Asia.
A sliver of moon hung over the Arabian Sea as the dinghy powered towards the 'Queen's Necklace', the chain of lights strung across Mumbai's Back Bay. The ten-man crew of Pakistani fighters rode the black waves in silence, listening to the thrum of the outboard motor and hunched over Chinese rucksacks, printed with English logos that read: 'Changing the Tide'. Ten AK-47s, ten pistols, ammunition, grenades, explosives and timers, maps, water, almonds and raisins - they laid out the contents in their minds. It barely seemed enough to take on the world's fourth-largest city. 'Surprise will get you in and fear will scatter the police,' their instructors had assured them. They had practised night landings, and planting timed bombs in taxis set to explode all over the city, hoping to create the illusion that an army had invaded Mumbai. Brother Ismail, the team leader, held high a GPS unit, programmed with landing co- ordinates, as the sea sprayed over them, stinging their sunburned faces.
They had volunteered for jihad a year before, and been put through religious indoctrination and military training that had taken them from secret mountain-top camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir down to safe houses in the swarming port city of Karachi. Four days ago, at dawn on 22 November, they had finally weighed anchor. One day out in open water, they had hijacked an Indian trawler, the first test of everyone's mettle. The second had been saying farewell to their handlers, from whom they had become inseparable, and who melted away into the sea mist, heading back to Pakistan. The third was forcing a captured Indian captain to navigate the seized trawler on towards invincible Mumbai, 309 nautical miles away, in the knowledge that this was the first time they had been alone.
In reality they were not by themselves. A satellite phone linked them back to a control room in Karachi that called regularly with updates. But these were landlocked boys, from impoverished rural communities, who knew only about chickens and goats, and they were stupefied by shooting stars arcing above them. On the second night, 24 November, they had all lain up on deck and imagined being sucked up into the heavens, while one of the ten had told the story of Sinbad, who had explored the Arabian Sea, where 'the rocky shore was strewn with the wreckage of a thousand gallant ships, while the bones of luckless mariners shone white in the sun shine, and we shuddered to think how soon our own would be added to the heap'.
Finally, on 26 November, the GPS had sounded their arrival off the coast of Mumbai, and they had called Karachi to find out what to do with the captured captain. It fell to Ajmal Kasab to act. He had just turned twenty-one and felt compelled to prove his worth. Two others held the Indian sailor down, while Ajmal slit his throat. Blooded, they jumped into a yellow dinghy that pulled them onwards towards the glistening Indian city.
Each of them, Ajmal recalled, seemed lost in thought. This was a one-way journey that was supposed to culminate with their deaths. There would be no hero's return, no village tamasha (celebration) to fete their victory, and no martyr's poster in the local mosque to immortalize their bravery. There would be no ringing eulogy printed in a jihad magazine. As they approached the city, Ajmal's mother, Noor Elahi, was crouched at home by the fire in Faridkot, frying stuffed parathas for his younger brother and sister, a pot of thick curd sitting up on the kitchen shelf. She had no idea her favourite son was staring at a rapidly nearing foreign shore, his head filled with instructions to 'kill relentlessly' .
Ajmal had started on this road in November 2007, with another boy of his age, both of them pledging, mujahid-style, to fight for each other until the end. But this boy had had a family who had talked him back home, while other cadres got homesick and were also fetched by concerned fathers, brothers or uncles. By May 2008, half of the would-be warriors had changed their minds. Ajmal had waited at the camp gates, but no one had come for him. In the end, and alone, he had given himself over to the outfit, signing a testament in which he pledged to 'cut open the kafir's jugular to quench my anger'.
Then, the handlers had packed his rucksack and put him to sea with nine others, all of them wearing new Western clothes, sporting cropped hair and carrying fake Indian IDs.
At 8.20 p.m., dry land reared up. As he slipped on the pack, Ajmal remembered a promise made by their amir, the cleric who had sent them on their way, conjuring up their deaths: 'Your faces will glow like the moon. Your bodies will emanate scent, and you will go to paradise.'
The higgledy-piggledy fishermen's chawl (tenement), close to the tourist mecca of Colaba, was deserted when they leapt ashore. Residents were distracted, watching an India-England cricket match on TV. Only local resident Bharat Tandel challenged them, as they ran up to the road: 'Who are you and where are you going?' A shouted answer came back: 'Hum pehle se hi tang hain. Hume pareshaan mat karo [We are already stressed, so don't pester us].'
An hour later, the growl of gunfire and the bark of explosions reverberated across the city.
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