An Indian army soldier holds positions outside The Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai on November 29, 2008. Indian commandos have killed the last Islamic militants holed up inside Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel, ending the more than two-day assault on India’s financial capital, the city’s police chief told AFP.
SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images
By: Danny Eisen
India has just marked an anniversary. Five years ago, 10 terrorists from Pakistan had taken Mumbai hostage. For three days buildings burned, taxis exploded and terrified people in besieged buildings crawled out of windows above the city trying to evade Pakistan’s marauding ambassadors of death. In coordinated attacks on a dozen locations including hospitals and hotels, 166 men, women and children from 12 countries including Canada were murdered, and hundreds more were injured.
But from amidst the carnage, an epidemic of heroism emerged that should be remembered along with those who lost lives and limbs. In stark contrast to the pitiless resolve of the killers who combed the halls of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel and executed its guests, the hotel’s employees refused to abandon the iconic edifice.
Cleaning staff, waiters and busboys escorted people through corridors and halls to safer locations within the burning Taj, while other staff evacuated guests forming human shields to protect them. Telephone operators who had safely escaped, returned to the hotel to contact and direct trapped patrons, and banquet manager Mallika Jagad placed husbands and wives in separate locations to minimize the loss to any single family. Throughout the onslaught, the Taj’s general manager Karambir Sing Kang continued to lead the rescue effort knowing that his wife and two children had just been consumed in the flames that had engulfed the sixth floor. As many as 11 Taj employees lost their lives assisting well over 1,000 guests to escape.
Earlier, the terrorists had attacked Mumbai’s main train station. The floors had “vibrated” from gunfire as the gunmen sprayed bullets at the hundreds of waiting passengers. When one of the terrorists noticed an injured mother picking up her crying infant, a single burst of gunfire cut her down. The assault proceeded virtually unchallenged, with the exception of a single stalwart voice within the station. Vishnu Datta Ram Zende stayed at his post, directing fleeing passengers to safety over loudspeakers, undeterred by the assailants who unsuccessfully attempted to silence him, firing through the window of his booth.
During the 60-hour assault on the world’s fourth largest city, nobility of this sort reared its head again and again. Ten staff members of the Oberai Trident Hotel were murdered ushering guests to safety, firefighters dodged bullets while fighting blazes set by the assailants, and hunted guests rose to help each other through fateful decisions that no one should ever have to make.
But it would be a women hiding in a closet several kilometres away that captured the attention of the world. Sandra Samuel, a Christian, worked as a nanny at Nariman House, a small Jewish hostel and community centre run by the Habad movement — an outreach organization known for its hospitality and charitable work. Unlike the Taj and train station, Nariman had neither iconic value nor large numbers of potential victims. It had been singled out only because of its religious affiliation. In an intercepted call to the terrorists, the handlers in Pakistan emphasized that “every person you kill” in Nariman “is worth 50 of the ones killed elsewhere.”
During the siege of Nariman, Sandra managed to hide as her employer Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka were executed. As the terrorists prepared to murder the four remaining Nariman hostages, the handlers in Pakistan insisted on staying on the line to participate vicariously. “Go on. I’m listening,” the handler said. “Do it. Sit them up and shoot them in the back of the head. … Do it in God’s name.”
Amidst the shooting and terror Sandra heard the voice of two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg calling her name from somewhere within the facility. She bolted from her hiding place to look for the child in a building littered with bodies and crawling with terrorists. Sandra grabbed the child whose parents lay dead beside him and ran, as the terrorists continued to fire. In the aftermath, Sandra would leave her family in India to accompany Moshe, who clung and responded only to her, to live with his grandparents in Israel. She has not left his side.
Unfortunately, the courage of Sandra and the other heroes of Mumbai has not been matched by international resolve. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the terrorist entity responsible for the attacks, continues to flourish in Pakistan virtually unhindered by authorities. Considered by some to be more dangerous than al-Qaeda, LeT is a transnational threat with networks in South Asia, the Persian Gulf, Europe, Australia, the U.S. and Canada. It is worth noting that in the wake of the Mumbai attack, investigators uncovered an LeT list of 320 possible targets for attack. Only 20 were located within India.
LeT also operates 2,000 offices throughout Pakistan and according to a recent report by West Point, LeT has trained between 100,000 and 300,000 of Pakistan’s “best and brightest.” Ominously for countries like Canada, LeT has extended its operational, recruitment and fundraising reach into the Pakistani diaspora.
But LeT is only one of the many terrorist proxies that have been created, supported or tolerated by Pakistani authorities with little or no censure from the international community. These entities will continue to force death and heroism on cities like Mumbai as long as Islamabad remains immune from accountability.
Pakistan’s highly selective cooperation with Canada and its allies in combatting terror can no longer excuse or obscure the widely accepted fact that Pakistan uses terrorism to advance its foreign policy objectives.
The time has come to forsake our policies of ambiguity and confront Pakistan for the purveyor of death and instability it truly is. Sandra and the others have already done their part as individuals. Now Canada and the western world must do their part as states — by depriving Pakistan of its ill-begotten legitimacy and designating it as a state sponsor of terror with all the ignominy such a title entails.
Danny Eisen is co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT)
Victims, heroes and Pakistani complicity…from amidst the carnage, heroism emerged that should be remembered along with those who lost lives and limbs. Victims, heroes and Pakistani complicity…from amidst the carnage, heroism emerged that should be remembered along with those who lost lives and limbs. Victims, heroes and Pakistani complicity…from amidst the carnage, heroism emerged that should be remembered along with those who lost lives and limbs. Victims, heroes and Pakistani complicity…from amidst the carnage, heroism emerged that should be remembered along with those who lost lives and limbs.