12 years of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack: Look at Pakistan masterminds, brave Indian officers and survivors who lived to tell the brutal tale

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on 26 November, 2018. It is being republished on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the terror attacks that rocked the city of Mumbai

Ten years after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, the Mumbai Police has said that the city is safe and its force is competent to handle any terror threat. In one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in the country's history, 166 people were killed and over 300 injured as 10 heavily-armed terrorists from Pakistan created mayhem in the millennium city on 26 November, 2008.

Even though the ill-fated day is still etched in the minds of the survivors and the victims' family, Mumbai Police Commissioner Subodh Kumar Jaiswal — on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attack — said that, "I can assure Mumbaikars that the city is safe and police are capable of protecting you from any eventuality. We have a strong and trained police force having latest equipment, weapons, strategy tactics and are always ready to deal with all the challenges," he said.

File image of Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai. Reuters

"The role of police was redefined after the 26/11 attack and there was a major overhaul of the city security system," Deven Bharti, Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) told PTI. "We have created Quick Response Teams, which will be the first to respond in any situation. There is a dedicated commando team 'Force One', with capabilities to handle any terror threat and also the coastal police to secure coastal area," he said. "We have a strong CCTV network in the city and each CCTV is connected with the main police control room through an integrated system," he added.

However, 10 years ago, as the city grappled with the four-day siege, many heroes emerged. While some lived to tell the tale, others sacrificed their lives to ensure hundreds were rescued from the horrific shooting and bombings that followed. Here are some of the key people associated with the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks:

The masterminds

The only surviving terrorist who was apprehended live by the Mumbai Police, Ajmal Kasab, disclosed that the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba as The Government of India declared that the attackers came from Pakistan as Indian government officials said that the attacks were so sophisticated that they must have had official backing from Pakistani "agencies", an accusation denied by Pakistan. However, on 7 January 2009, Pakistan confirmed the sole surviving perpetrator of the attacks was a Pakistani citizen.

Mumbai police originally identified 37 suspects—including two Pakistani army officers—for their alleged involvement in the plot. One of these men, Pakistani American David Headley was found to have made several trips to India before the attacks and gathered video and GPS information on behalf of the plotters.

Pakistan, coming under pressure from the US and the United Nations, arrested a few members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), including founder Hafiz Saeed, and put Saeed under house arrest, but he was released a few days later. In June, 2009 when the Lahore High Court, deeming the containment to be unconstitutional, ordered Saeed to be released, India expressed its disappointment with the decision. He was again put under house arrest in September 2009 only to be freed from all charges in October by the Lahore High Court.

Meanwhile, a year after the attacks, the Mumbai Police continued to complain that Pakistani authorities were not co-operating by providing information for their investigation. On 9 April, 2015, one of the main masterminds behind the 26/11 attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was granted bail in Pakistan. Some of the other handlers including Sheikh Abdul Khwaja and Abu Hamza were nabbed by the R&AW agents and the Delhi Police respectively. Meanwhile, in December, 2009, the FBI charged Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a retired Major in the Pakistani army, for planning the attacks in association with Headley.

Kasab was hanged in the Yerwada Jail in 2012. Later in 2018, during an interview with Dawn, Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif reportedly indirectly accepted Pakistan's involvement in the attacks.

The police and Army officials

According to the then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, 15 policemen and two NSG commandos were killed in the attacks. Retired Mumbai Police officer Rakesh Maria was given the responsibility of investigating the attacks. He interrogated Kasab and investigated the case which revealed of Pakistan's involvement in the barbaric act. Maria was in charge of the police control room on the fateful night from where the entire counter-operation was monitored.

However, a controversy had surfaced when Mumbai terror attack victim and slain officer Ashok Kamte's wife blamed Maria for mishandling the security response during the attack.

Apart from Kamte, the Joint Commissioner of Police Hemant Karkare, who was the chief of the Mumbai anti-terrorism squad was also killed during the fight with the armed terrorists. Encounter specialist senior inspector Vijay Salaskar and Shashank Shinde, and NSG commandos Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Hawaldar Gajendra Singh also lost their lives during the rescue operation.

Assistant police sub-inspector Tukaram Omble showed exemplary courage when he succeeded in capturing a Kasab alive but had to sacrifice his life in the battle with the gunman.

The survivors

Among the five locations which were attacked, was the Chabad House, a prominent Jewish Centre where two terrorists had laid siege killing nine, including Rabbi Gavriel and his pregnant wife Rivka. However, in what was later termed as a miraculous escape, their son Moshe was saved by his nanny Sandra Samuel. Moshe, who was a two-year-old baby at that time, was rescued and sent back to Israel with Samuel. In January 2018, Moshe re-visited India with his grandparents and Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Another survivor of the attack Devika Rotawan became a household name after she testified against Ajmal Kasab in court having identified him as her attacker. Rotawan was shot in the leg at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus on the night of 26 November and went on to become the youngest witness in the terror case. However, Rotawan says that despite her bravery, she hasn't received any financial help from the government. “We were promised a house but nothing has been done till date,” she told Hindustan Times.

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