This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at

200 dead hundreds injured in Mumbai terrorist attacks - police launch manhunt for any remaining terrorists

November 29, 2008

Mumbai: city of death

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai finally ended yesterday, leaving at least 195 people dead. But already questions are being asked about how the attackers got through to commit mass murder

The body fell limply from the ground-floor window of the still-burning building at about 8am yesterday. The black-clad Indian commando who had shoved it out without ceremony leant through the frame and gave a thumbs-up sign to his colleagues outside.

With the last of the terrorists who had holed up in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel confirmed dead, the 60-hour siege of Mumbai was finally complete.

"All operations are over. All the terrorists have been killed," said Hassan Gafoor, the city's police chief, as special-forces units emerged from the smoke-filled hotel and firefighters moved in to douse a fierce blaze. The whistles of hundreds of policemen filled the air.

The head of the National Security Guard commando unit was more circumspect as he spoke to reporters outside the hotel. "Three terrorists have been killed, but we are continuing our operations," said JK Dutt, adding that his men would not rest until they had checked every room.

Related Links

They had good cause to keep up their guard. Twice in the preceding 48 hours it had seemed that the hotel was back under the control of the Indian authorities, only for the terrorists to find another hiding place to continue their outrage.

At the end of it, 195 people were confirmed dead, with many more expected to be found in the Taj Mahal Palace, and more than 370 were injured. One Briton was among the 22 foreigners killed.

As night fell, a sense of relief came to India's battered commercial capital. But already its 19m people and the wider population were beginning to reflect on what had happened during "India's 9/11" and whether it could have been stopped.

Last night it emerged that Indian intelligence had been aware of a suspicious phone call from a ship believed to be carrying the terrorists from Karachi, the Pakistani port, to Mumbai.

There were questions too about the Indian security forces' response to the attacks and about whether this kind of attack could herald a new tactic for Islamist terror.

First contact with the terrorists came shortly after 8pm on Wednesday night, when a small yellow and black inflatable dinghy pulled up to the shore at Sassoon Docks, near the financial district that marks the southern tip of the Mumbai peninsula.

In the boat were about eight men in their twenties, all wearing casual western clothes that would help them blend in with the tourists and affluent young Indians who populate the area.

"Six young men with large bags came ashore, after which the two who remained in the boat started the outboard motor and sped off," said Suresh, a local man who witnessed the landing.

"They said they were students. When we tried to find out what they were doing, they spoke very aggressively, and I got scared." He was right to have done.

A few blocks inland, in the Colaba district, it was a typically noisy night at Leopold cafe, where generations of backpackers have swapped travellers' tales over one of its four-pint tubes of beer.

The bar had character of sorts: bistro-style tables and chairs strewn around brown and cream pillars, kitsch pictures of the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China, and ancient metal ceiling fans that barely outpaced the waiters. Guidebooks grumble about too many backpackers and expats, and the western-centric menu, but there were always a few Indians too, usually young and western-leaning, on a date or celebrating a birthday or promotion with friends.

Wednesday night was busy as usual. Harnish Patel, a young chartered surveyor from Havant, Hampshire, was there with Joey Jeetun, 31, from Bethnal Green, London, whom he had met earlier on a boat trip. They were talking, over loud music, of his plans to spend a month touring India.

A few check-clothed tables away, a middle-aged nurse from London and her son were chatting about their plans to sell a family home in the city.

Then, at about 9.30pm, a waiter weaving through the closely placed tables suddenly dropped his tin tray. It clanged on the ground, bringing all conversation to a halt as guests looked up. Could he have spotted what was about to happen?

For this was the moment the gunman chose as his cue. The casually dressed young man calmly stood up from his table, carefully placed a protective cloth on top of his AK-47 and began to spray bullets in an arc around him, sending diners diving for cover and transforming the scene of revelry into one of terror and carnage.

"We were just sitting there drinking milkshakes when we heard what sounded like light-bulbs exploding," said Jeetun, an actor who, in a grim irony, played Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London suicide bombers, in a Five drama about the 7/7 attacks.

He was pushed to the floor and decided the best option was to play dead. "I just stayed with my face down and kept quiet. It stopped for a few moments but then it started again. Someone said, ‘Stay down, stay down. They are still here.'

"There was blood everywhere. The guy next to me was shot in the head. He was a local Indian guy in his twenties. Harnish was shot in the leg. I was covered in blood."

When Patel was lifted out from under his table, it was found he had been shot in both legs and suffered shrapnel wounds to his chest. At least four bodies were lying in pools of blood around him.

There was more carnage outside. One witness, Sheikh Pasha, who was standing just outside the cafe at the time, said there were two terrorists inside and three waiting outside who shot at those fleeing the carnage. "I saw one of them reload the gun and again engage in a shooting spree. The entire episode lasted for some 20 minutes," he said.

A young London man, who had been in the cafe with his mother, said he had been watching a tall man sharing a cigarette with a blonde girl outside the restaurant when the attack started. As he and his mother fled down a lane opposite towards the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, a few hundred yards away, he saw the man running with the blonde girl over his shoulder. "Her back was covered in blood," he said.

As he and about 20 other escapees stopped to look back, one of the gunmen opened fire on them as he stalked them down the lane.

It turned out they were running in the direction of further carnage.

The Taj Mahal Palace hotel stands in the shadow of the city's biggest tourist attraction, the Gateway of India, built to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary to the city in 1911 and through which all civil servants of the Raj passed on arriving in the country. Thousands of visitors flock to it every day.

The hotel is an attraction in itself, housing many of Mumbai's best restaurants. It was the first choice for visiting foreign businessmen and dignitaries and a venue for special occasions for locals. The England cricket team had been scheduled to stay there next month.

At about 10pm, another team of gunmen strode into the hotel and opened fire in two locations. One entered the walled garden on the city side of the building, which holds the hotel's luxury pool and barbecue restaurant, and another began shooting in the lobby at the sea side.

"They came in on the ground floor at the poolside area and started firing indiscriminately at anything that moved. A man next to me was shot and died," said one eyewitness who later escaped.

According to the hotel's bars consultant, Joel Lindsey, 35, an Australian, it was happy hour when the killers struck. He had been serving a guest when he heard several "big bangs" from the lobby. He rushed to look and saw "people running as fast as they could in every direction".

Guests in the restaurants and the Starboard bar fled, some to an underground car park and others to the hotel's executive business lounges on the first floor, as machinegun fire shattered glass and scarred the walls around them.

Upstairs on the second floor, Amit and Varsha Thadani were preparing for their wedding reception in the hotel's Crystal ballroom. But rather than celebrating with their 200 guests, they spent the next seven hours huddling on the floor of their bathroom as the mayhem spread around them.

At one point there were two loud explosions that blew out the windows and doors of their room. From the room next door they heard a woman's screams as the gunfire got closer - then an ominous sound. "We could sense she was being dragged around," said Varsha.

A few miles away on the other side of the peninsula, diners at the Oberoi hotel's Kandahar restaurant were stunned by the sound of several explosions and machinegun fire when two gunmen walked in from the kitchens and demanded that all British and American guests identify themselves.

A number of staff and guests were summarily killed while a group of about 40 were rounded up and marched up a flight of service stairs to the 10th floor.

At about the same time, another group of militants entered Nariman House, a centre for the city's Jewish community and a base for the orthodox Jewish Chabad Lubavitch group, and took about a half a dozen hostages.

There were further attacks at two hospitals treating some of the victims, the Cama and the GT, where doctors came under fire, while a taxi packed with bombs exploded near Dockyard Road in Mazagaon.

It quickly became clear that this was more than an isolated incident.

News of the shootings reached Hemant Karkare, the city's antiterrorism chief, as he was meeting RR Patil, the city's deputy chief minister. Karkare, who revelled in his image as a man of action, immediately jumped in a police car and headed south towards the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi hotels. While he was on the way, he was informed about yet another attack, this time at the city's heaving Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus.

The former Victoria terminus, recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, the country's busiest railway stations. With 3m passengers a day boarding more than 1,200 trains, even at this relatively late hour it was packed with commuters.

Karkare changed direction and headed towards the station.

Witnesses reported seeing four gunmen arriving at the terminus armed with automatic rifles. Two walked into the station, put down their rucksacks, held their AK47s at waist height and began firing indiscriminately at commuters as they waited to board trains home to the suburbs.

"Their audaciousness was breathtaking," said Pappu Mishra, who watched the carnage from his cafe in the station. "One man loaded the magazine into the gun, the other kept shooting. They were not in the slightest hurry. They didn't seem to be afraid at all."

People engaged in the mundane activities of daily life were cut down. A man at a cash machine was dispatched, followed by another at a water fountain around the corner.

At least 47 were killed inside the terminus. A slew of bodies lay in pools of blood amid abandoned carrier bags, rucksacks, water bottles, shoes and sandals.

Outside, the other two gunmen killed nine more and then took off for a popular local cinema complex, where they inflicted yet more casualties. More than 100 policemen armed with self-loading rifles failed to stop them.

When Karkare arrived at the terminus, he donned a bullet-proof vest and joined the fray, shooting at the gunmen from just outside the station.

Yet later a terrorist's bullet took him down too. An incredible scene unfolded as Karkare's deputy, Ashok Kamte, and Vijay Salaskar, a top "encounter specialist", were also killed while sitting in their police jeep. The gunmen turfed their bodies out onto the ground and drove off in their vehicle.

Its high-speed journey through the streets was captured by local television camera crews, which filmed a group of police and journalists diving for cover as they were fired on by the occupants of the four-wheel-drive SUV.

The city's police force was broken and in disarray, out-gunned, outmanoeuvred and, at this stage, clueless.

It was not until about 3am the following morning that India's police and armed forces began to restore any sense of order when members of the elite marine commandos arrived at the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi hotels. Previously, press photographers and amateur cameramen had managed to slip into the hotels despite the cordon, whose haphazard nature was described by one expat as "an Indian lockdown".

At the Taj, the commandos were told by hotel staff that there were three or four terrorists inside and were briefed on the building's labyrinthine layout.

"We wanted to know what all the explosives [and] weapons were that were being held by these terrorists. We went to the CCTV room and, on the way, found there were terrorists on the 7th and 8th floors hurling grenades and firing indiscriminately," a marine commando officer, whose face was covered by a black scarf to protect his identity, said later.

They found the CCTV room was on fire and belching smoke, which ruled out getting live pictures of the gunmen, and as they were considering their options they heard more gunfire from the second floor. According to the officer, they rushed towards the firing, took cover and discovered 15 bodies and several seriously injured guests around them.

"We came under weapon fire and grenades were hurled at us. The moment the firing stopped, we understood these terrorists were very well informed regarding the layout of the hotel. In no time, they vanished and went elsewhere," he said.

The commandos ordered hotel staff to take the injured to ambulances and clear the dead but, after 30 minutes, they heard fresh gunshots. The employees led the commandos to a room on the second floor of the hotel's tower wing, where it appeared the terrorists were hiding.

"When we tried to enter the room, the terrorists fired at us again. There was exchange of fire but, because the room was absolutely dark and they were accustomed to the darkness, it was difficult for us. One of our commandos was injured seriously and one slightly," he said.

They decided to flush out the gunmen in a "room intervention" raid.

"It was at around 5.30am [on Thursday]," said the commando. "I found out that the room opens onto a terrace. We moved to block the terrace so we could flush them out. There was no movement or firing from the room for some time, so we entered the room, but there were no terrorists inside. They had escaped."

What he did find was a discarded rucksack containing some vital clues about the men who were holding Mumbai to ransom. The bag contained dried fruit, large amounts of ammunition, about $1,200 and about £800 worth of Indian rupees. The commandos also discovered AK-47 rounds, seven fully loaded magazines, 400 bullet rounds and various hand-grenades.

They also found a Mauritian identity card, a Mauritian address in a wallet, and seven different credit cards, including HSBC and Citibank cards. One of the cards carried the same name as the ID card - all crucial pieces of evidence indicating the attackers were more likely to be foreign militants linked to Al-Qaeda than local Muslim terrorists hoping to stoke conflict with the country's Hindu majority.

The discovery of the vast quantities of ammunition and high-energy snacks confirmed that the attackers had planned to keep their siege going for as long as possible.

The amount of weaponry and explosives also raised the likelihood - later backed by police investigators - that at least one of the gunmen had been a regular or long-stay guest in the hotel, so that weapons could be brought in and knowledge of the layout could be acquired.

Suggestions that the terrorists had come prepared to use BlackBerry personal organisers to communicate with one another and to check the progress of their raids on international news websites were discounted yesterday. Indian security sources pointed out that, in the mayhem following the attacks, many guests would have left their electronic equipment behind.

Nevertheless, the terrorists' level of preparedness gave the authorities real problems.

"They were very determined and ruthless," said the marine commando. "They appeared to have carried out a survey before. They were moving from one place to the other. We were told there were three or four terrorists, but the firing and grenades were coming from different places. We saw three of them on the second floor near the kitchens. We had to find our own way."

As they made their way through the hotel's corridors and narrow stairs, the commandos found dead bodies "here and there and blood all over", he said. He stressed that their first priority had been to evacuate the building's 400 rooms of all guests. "We had to be careful about firing," he said.

There was no doubting the ability of the enemy. "Not everyone can fire an AK-47 or throw grenades. It was obvious they had been trained somewhere," he said.

Although the commandos were being outmanoeuvred in the cat-and-mouse chase around the Taj, they were at least diverting the gunmen's attention and limiting their ability to attack guests, who were hiding in several locations around the building.

Many of these guests, including members of the European parliament, executives from companies such as HSBC and Unilever, Sir Gulam Noon, Britain's "curry king", holidaymakers and cricket fans following England's tour and a forthcoming international tournament, had been spirited away from first danger when the terrorists struck in the lobby and ground-floor restaurants, and hidden in barricaded meeting rooms.

Lindsey, the bar consultant, had been giving a customer some change in the Starboard bar when the firing began and quickly darted down to a sealed underground car park.

"I heard several big bangs and pretty much charged out the back of the bar. A large proportion of the staff ended up in the underground car park. I got there before they shut the doors and we were there for a couple of hours. We thought it was just a single gunman running around until people realised there was more than one in different places in the hotel.

"We moved up to rooms on level one and at first we had canapés, water and everyone was a bit scared but relaxed. There were around 150 people there, not that many staff. A lot of people were getting mobile phone calls with news from television channels saying the terrorists had control of the building, but one of the managers came and said everything is under control. There was confusion and then the TVs went off.

"People were getting information from their BlackBerrys. Someone said we were about to be evacuated, but suddenly there were gunshots and everyone charged for their lives.

"It had been on the news that we were hiding in one of the biggest rooms in chambers [the first-floor rooms]. So the terrorists had access to the same information and once they found out where we were they came for us.

"There was about four or five hours of gunfire and raids and things going on around us - all around us there was a war going on, getting closer and closer.

"At first people were kneeling down behind chairs, but then lying down for cover. I was lying over a girl's bottom, someone was lying on my feet. One girl was getting cramp and changing position, saying to herself, ‘We're all going to die.' A one point I was considering phoning my mum and dad to say goodbye. Then eventually an army commando came into the room."

Lindsey's fellow employees had taken a heavy toll. "One of my colleagues in the coffee shop where I eat my meals was taken out and shot," he said. "I've heard that 15 of our managers have been killed; the chef I walked to the car park with was killed."

Indeed, stories emerged of noble self-sacrifice by members of staff. One guest, Prashant Mangeshikar, said a worker had acted as a human shield for him, his wife and two daughters. "The man in front of my wife shielded us," said Mangeshikar. "He was a maintenance section staff worker. He took the bullets."

Many guests had lucky escapes. A group in the Taj's Souk restaurant had the good fortune to have among their fellow diners seven professional bodyguards from South Africa, who were in Mumbai to protect cricket players during the forthcoming Champions League tournament.

"We heard a commotion in the lobby and were told there was something going on downstairs," said Bob Nicholls, the British co-owner of Nicholls Steyn & Associates.

"We looked around and said, ‘This is not a secure place'. It's a glass door and it's purely a matter of time before somebody gets in."

He and his men rounded up their fellow guests and ushered them into a nearby conference room where, having armed themselves with meat cleavers and knives from the kitchen, the security guards barricaded themselves in with tables, chairs and fridges. They even set up improvised men's and women's toilets. All escaped unharmed.

Some were not so fortunate. While some guests improvised with sheets to lower themselves to the ground from upper floors, Ralph Burkel, a 51-year-old media manager from Germany, was forced to jump.

He landed heavily but managed to call a friend. "I've broken all the bones in my body," he told his friend. "If no one helps me right now, I won't make it." Burkel died on the way to hospital.

Other guests reported stepping past dead bodies as they left, and walking on blood-soaked carpets strewn with body parts. One, Christopher Ralph, a fund manager from Balham, southwest London, said: "There were discarded shoes, broken glasses, innards. I thought I saw a liver."

Ralph had been in Mumbai on a business trip with a colleague. He had been trapped in his room and communicated with his colleague outside the hotel, and with the security consultants Control Risks, via his BlackBerry. They had advised him on barricading himself in.

"I was frustrated, I thought I was going to die. I spent a long time hiding behind my bed. My big fear was that the noises I could hear around me were terrorists holed up in the rooms close to me or they were on the hunt for further captives - I'd heard they were looking for American and British passport holders," he said.

Over at the Oberoi hotel on the west side of Bombay's southern peninsula, the terrorists appeared to have a freer hand, with police and marine commandos arriving at 3am and entering only the neighbouring Trident hotel.

By that time, guests had been at the terrorists' mercy for more than five hours, and many were shown no mercy.

Mark Abell, a London-based lawyer, was one of the lucky ones. He and some local business partners had finished dinner and he had just returned to his room when he heard gunfire and explosions. Downstairs in the Kandahar restaurant, the waitress who had just served him was shot dead, along with a Japanese tourist at reception.

His survival was an example of how technology played a key role in the sieges. Abell had initially watched the crisis unfold on television, where he had seen Karkare, the anti-terrorism chief, describe his determination to end the sieges. Later he watched the news of the policeman's death.

When the television cable connection was shut down some time later, he called colleagues at his law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse in London, and his local business partners, and began creating a BlackBerry network of others holed up in their rooms in fear of the gunmen.

"I had 3,000 e-mails from people all around the world, some of them from those who had friends and family in the same situation and so we exchanged information," he said.

"There were about 10 people in the hotel on the network. We were all getting information from the outside about what was going on. My company gave me security advice: not to use the hotel phones, what to do if the terrorists breached the room."

The group had discussed conflicting reports on whether the coast was clear, swapped information on what they could hear outside their rooms and decided against making a bid to escape.

At one stage, Abell even managed to contact BBC Radio 4's Today programme for an interview. However, while he felt the flow of information was keeping him sane and alive, for some it posed a direct and deadly threat.

Andreas Liveras, a wealthy 73-year-old British-Cypriot businessman, was shot dead soon after he gave a telephone interview to the BBC in which he described how he was among 1,000 guests living in fear at the Taj hotel.

"We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machinegun kept going and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, to come up into a salon."

"Every time you hear something, everybody jumps. Everybody is just living on their nerves," he said before he was killed.

Some hostages began to suspect that these early broadcasts, which were picked up by the Indian 24-hour news channels, and the constant stream of mobile phone calls, text messages and e-mails, were seen by terrorists and alerted them to the guests' hiding places.

Lindsey said that every time somebody's mobile phone rang he wished somebody would hit them because he was afraid it would attract attention.

As the Indian commandos and police made sometimes painfully slow advances through the hotels, more and more guests were released.

The Oberoi was the first hotel to be cleared at 11am on Friday morning. Nariman House had been cleared a few hours earlier. Although the commandos emerged making "V for victory" signs after an audacious helicopter-led raid, all the eight hostages inside had killed.

Among the victims were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. They left behind a son, Moshe, who has just turned 2.

The Taj, despite twice being declared free of terrorists as early as Thursday, did not come under state control under yesterday morning.

Up to three terrorists had formed a last redoubt on the first floor of the old wing and, for more than 36 hours, the area was punctuated by the sounds of explosions and gunfire.

The authorities fought back with force. A fire engine's ladder was put to use as an improvised machinegun nest.

Eventually the terrorists succumbed and the grim task of searching the building for bodies began.

Hassan Gafoor, Mumbai's police chief, said he believed there were about 50 bodies at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, "possibly including British guests". Other police sources said the figure could be as high as 80.

Last night the Indian authorities said they had removed 22 bodies from the building yesterday. Incredibly, they had found one person, a member of staff, alive in the hotel lobby.

Sir Richard Stagg, the British high commissioner, who was coordinating the rescue of British survivors last week, said he expected more British fatalities to emerge and had arranged a team of specialists in repatriating the dead to be ready in Mumbai.

If the Oberoi is a guide, he is right to be concerned. When the commandos cleared the hotel, rescuers found the bodies of 30 guests in the lobby area.

As the marine commandos gradually brought the terrorists to heel, Mumbai's antiterrorism detectives finally began to uncover clues to the identities of the gunmen who had shattered the city's - and India's - fragile confidence.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, a hitherto unknown group, Deccan mujaheddin issued a statement claiming responsibility. In an e-mail to Indian news channel IBN, the group said its attacks were a warning to the government over its alleged mistreatment of Muslims, particularly in Kashmir.

This was quickly discounted, however, as were reports that British Muslims had been involved. Security sources said yesterday the stories may have come from a report on an Indian television news channel that was soon withdrawn. They added that Indian officials have been adamant in conversations with them that there is no evidence of British involvement.

Yesterday the finger became pointed more firmly at Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group formed to fight Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir. The group had initially prospered with covert training from Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. The Pakistan government turned its back on the group after the September 11 attacks, however, and Lashkar-e-Taiba has since moved into the Al-Qaeda network.

The group specialises in "fidayeen" suicide attacks where terrorists launch a raid knowing they will probably die and aim to kill as many as they can and hold out for as long as possible. It mounted the assault on Delhi's Red Fort in 2000 and has been linked to the 2001 attack on India's parliament.

The gunmen's links to Pakistan were initially suspected simply because of the ambition and smooth execution of the Mumbai attacks - they clearly required months of planning and resources not believed to be possessed by Indian-based militant groups.

But as the police investigation has progressed, and the commandos inside the hotels uncovered more clues, the finger began to point more firmly in its direction.

The first clue was the discovery by the coastguard of the Kuber, a local fishing boat. On board was the body of the captain, named locally as Balwant Tandel. His crew of four were missing. A satellite phone and global positioning system map were discovered on board the trawler. Intelligence agencies are investigating the satellite phone's records in an attempt to track the locations of the calls received while the phone was on the boat.

Back in Mumbai, Indian detectives said a satellite phone recovered from two of the nine terrorists shot dead revealed calls to Karachi. Then came the crucial breakthrough - a terrorist captured alive at the train station was starting to talk.

Ajmal Aamer, a 21-year-old Pakistani national from Faridkot in Punjab, told interrogators he had been trained in marine warfare techniques at the Mangla Dam, on the border between Pakistani Punjab and Pakistani Kashmir. The last batch of students were believed to have completed their training in 2006.

He said he had travelled from Kashmir to Rawalpindi and on to Karachi in a pair, as had the other gunmen. They had been instructed to keep talk to a minimum.

According to sources close to the investigation, 12 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba had boarded an unnamed boat at Karachi - not the MV Alpha, which had been named in early reports - but later switched when they became nervous of Indian coastguard vessels.

The gunmen were each given specific instructions and carried them out without much communication with each other.

According to Aamer, they became nervous when they saw a coastguard ship and were noticed. At this point, around November 18 or 19, they hijacked the Kuber and spent a week sailing local waters before setting course for their deadly mission in Mumbai.

More alarming for the Indian authorities are claims that intelligence had been alerted by a satellite call mentioning a trip to Mumbai, which had been traced to Pakistan, and had alerted the coastguard on November 18. The call, which originated mid-ocean, reportedly said, "We're coming to Mumbai", and was tracked back to Pakistan.

It also emerged yesterday that the Indian authorities may have had earlier warnings that an attack was being planned.

In January this year, a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative disclosed the plans during interrogation after he was arrested during an attack on a police station in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. The terrorist, Fahim Ansari, said he had conducted reconnaissance at the Gateway of India, the Mumbai stock exchange and the Oberoi hotel.

The information was passed to Indian intelligence and to Mumbai police and government officials, who issued advisory notes to the named institutions.

The warning followed a similar operation in 2007, which appeared to be a dry run for last week's attacks, when other Lashkar-e-Taiba marine commandos landed a boat just outside Mumbai and were tracked north by Indian intelligence to Srinagar, Kashmir, where they were arrested.

Taj hotel group confirmed that it received two warnings to step up security procedures, one in February, shortly after Ansari's confession, and one in August around the time of Indian Independence Day.

"There was an advisory from government officials," said the hotel group. "There was strict security outside the Taj after that. We stopped cars from being allowed in the forecourt, we installed metal detectors on the main entrance and we blocked off all the side entrances."

Of more long-term concern to the Indian authorities than questions about warning they might have received will be the incendiary effect the attacks may have on their relations with Pakistan.

The two nations have fought three wars since gaining independence in 1947 and came to the brink of a fourth after a December 2001 attack on India's parliament that was linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Last weekend Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, appeared to issue an olive branch to India, saying his country would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict between the two fractious nations.

Such overtures are now likely to be put into abeyance. The Hindu nationalist BJP party has been making gains at the expense of the governing Congress party in India, and can be expected to ramp up its anti-Muslim rhetoric in the coming months as a general election approaches.

Yesterday it emerged that the Pakistani government had withdrawn its offer to send the head of the ISI to India to help the inquiry into the attacks. The Pakistani cabinet held an emergency meeting. "These are sensitive moments," said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister. "The situation is serious, let us not fool ourselves . . . when the people in India feel this is 9/11 for India.

"It is in Pakistan's interests and in India's interests to defuse the situation. Lowering of tension is essential."

From a British perspective, security officials are worried that the success of the Mumbai attacks could prompt other extremist groups to emulate its methods against Britain and the West.

The conventional military style of the attacks differed markedly from traditional Al-Qaeda tactics, which often involve sophisticated planning and technical know-how.

Obtaining explosives to carry out a car-borne suicide attack or chemicals to construct an improvised device to be smuggled on to an aircraft creates a greater number of hurdles for terrorist planners to overcome.

The more hurdles there are and the more complex the plot, the more opportunities there are for the police and MI5 to prevent it.

Training a small army of men to fire automatic weapons and throw hand grenades does not present the same sort of challenge as the alleged 2006 liquid bomb plot targeting transatlantic airliners.

With the global television publicity from drawn-out sieges and the drama of hostage taking, this new model of attack could prove attractive to Al-Qaeda's planners and their affiliated groups.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, a terrorism expert at the University of St Andrews, said the attacks posed a real challenge for the global fight against jihadi terrorism.

"There is a danger of copy-cat tactics using the Mumbai model, not just in South Asia, but in Europe, in Britain and in the US as well," he said.

"I'm sure security agencies around the democratic world will be studying the lessons of Mumbai to strengthen their own defences."

Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP who is chairman of a new Commons subcommittee on counter-terrorism, said the attacks marked the opening of a new and worrying phase in Islamist violence.

He said many of the terrorists seemed to be uniformly armed, with the same weapons, grenades and even backpacks.

"This is almost a uniformed armed force the size of a rifle company, which was clearly being led by a military or ex-military leader," he said.

"It's a quantum leap in the style of attack. We've seen similar before, but never on this scale.

"We are suddenly looking at a new form of international disorder.

"This is terribly worrying and should dispel any form of complacency about the threat posed by terrorism to this country."

Back in Mumbai, as the clearing up continued, a simple sum was causing widespread alarm throughout the security and intelligence community in India.

Initially there were believed to have been 24 terrorists involved in bringing the city to its knees over the past few days. This figure has since been revised down to 10-15, depending on the source, whether government or police.

Such confusion has led to police concerns that some may be on the run.

"There may be terrorists still at large in the city," said Sub-Inspector S D Tarwadkar. "We cannot be 100% sure how many there were. There is a manhunt on and all police are on alert."

Meanwhile, British hostages started coming home. It was easy to tell who they were as they walked through customs at Heathrow: they were the ones with no luggage.

Many will take a long time to come to terms with their ordeal.

Lynne Shaw of Penarth, south Wales, who had been pinned down in the Taj with her husband Ken, said: "It wasn't until they gave me a glass of champagne about 20 minutes into the flight, that was the first time I wept because I knew how lucky we had been to get out.

"We haven't slept for three nights. It's been surreal, the whole thing. Hopefully life will feel normal again because it certainly doesn't feel normal at the moment."

Dean Nelson, Jalees Andrabi, Barney Henderson and Hussain Zaidi in Mumbai; David Leppard, Jonathan Calvert


Mumbai attacks - city fears five terrorists are 'missing'

Rhys Blakely in Mumbai
From The Times (London) December 2, 2008
#yiv146382691 div#related-article-links p a, #yiv146382691 div#related-article-links p a:visited { color:#06c;}

At least five terrorist gunmen might have escaped the carnage in Mumbai and could strike again, it emerged yesterday as a video surfaced showing the capture of the gang's sole known surviving member.

The prospect of more killers added to public anger at the Indian Government's lax handling of the worst terror strike to hit the country in 15 years.

The security forces claimed that only ten militants – nine of whom were killed and one caught alive – were behind the coordinated attacks that claimed nearly 200 lives. Rakesh Maria, a joint commissioner of police, said: "Their plan was just to cause maximum damage and return with hostages protecting themselves."

However, a hijacked Indian fishing boat used by the gunmen had equipment for 15 men on board when it was discovered adrift – suggesting that several gunmen could still be at large.

"Fifteen winter jackets were found, fifteen toothbrushes," a police source said. "That more terrorists are loose is possible."

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only gunman to be caught alive, said during police questioning that 24 men were trained in camps in Pakistan for the mission, according to a leaked account of his police interrogation.

He has since claimed, apparently, that only ten made the final trip to Mumbai, including him. Police are continuing to question the 21-year-old, who has said that he and his accomplices planned to kill 5,000 people.

Security experts say that a force of ten heavily armed men could carry out an operation on the scale of the Mumbai strike only if they received extensive training and local support.

Investigators believe that at least five or six additional people were immediately involved in preparing for the attacks by organising logistics and carrying out reconnaissance.

Grainy mobile phone footage broadcast yesterday by Sky Television sheds little light on the militants' methods, but it documents the capture of the "baby-faced gunman".

It shows Kasab's last stand: a small crowd is seen shouting and beating a man lying on the ground in a Mumbai street as police officers, blowing whistles and waving long sticks, try to restore order.

Police say that Kasab arrived with the other militants in two dinghies that moored on the seafront by the Gateway of India, near the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The militants then commandeered several cars and set off towards ten different sites across the city.

Kasab and one other gunman, Abu Ismail, headed straight for Chhat-rapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai's main railway station, where they opened fire with AK47s, killing dozens. It was there that he was photographed, holding his AK47 in one hand, in an image that has been seen around the world.

"They were right there," recalled Sebastian D'Souza, the man who took the photograph, pointing to the spot on the platform where he first saw the gunmen. "They never raised their guns, they were very cool. They just kept firing from their hips," he told Sky News.

"I saw lots of people shot dead, just lying there, nobody caring for them," he said. "If somebody had engaged them in some crossfire . . . " But no one did, so Kasab and his accomplice moved on to Cama hospital, according to Mumbai police.

There he and Abu Ismail shot dead three of India's top police officers who were rushing to the scene in a vehicle. The terrorists continued on their shooting spree, firing shots in the air at the Metro Cinema until their vehicle suffered a puncture.

Kasab and Abu Ismail then stole a golden Skoda Laura and were driving it towards Chowpatty beach, a popular evening destination for families in south Mumbai, when they were intercepted by a police team.

Abu Ismail was killed in the shoot-out, while Kasab was shot in his hand, according to police. It was then that he was attacked by the mob as shown in the mobile phone footage.

Initially he pretended to be dead, and was being taken to hospital when a police officer realised that he was breathing, according to Indian media reports. They said that when he reached hospital he told staff there: "I don't want to die." Later, after a police interrogation, he reportedly said: "Now I don't want to live."

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at