The battle between invading terrorists and the local security agencies which began on Wednesday evening continued for 48 hours and spilled into the afternoon of Friday afternoon. In the process, this long drawn out battle raised the question : were the Indian forces spearheaded by the NSG negotiating with the terrorists ? Is there a list of demands that we know nothing about ?
The local police were quick to cordon off the three targets : the TaJ Mahal Hotel near the Gateway of India, the Trident & The Oberoi at Nariman Point and Nariman House at Colaba . Not adequately armed to tackle AK-47 weilding and grenade throwing terrorists, the local police called in marine commandoes(known as Marcos) from nearby INS Angre in Colaba who kept a running battle going with the terrorist.
As the commanding officer of Marcos revealed(see box item), his men handed over charge to the NSG at around 10. a.m. on Thursday. Then the NSG took over and there was a distinct clamp down on information and images coming out of the three target areas.
All the three zones were hostage heavy targets and the majority were foreigners, particularly British and European. The hostages at Nariman House were Jewish including a rabbi and his wife and a newly married couple which had recently come in from the USA.
The presence of these hostages is the only reason for the long drawn out battle. It became very clear that the terrorists had a list of demands in hand when they took over the targets and were negotiating furiously with a hastily assembled team of high powered Indians.
What the Indian government has done is to clamp down on communication channels between the terrorists and media . Even the Al Jazeera TV crew outside the Taj Mahal Hotel could not receive any communication from the besieged but heavily armed and dangerous terrorists.
The first batch of those who were evacuated on Thursday afternoon , at both the Taj and The Trident , were largely Indians . Those who were evacuated from Nariman House( said to be a Jewish dominated building)on Thursday evening, were also Indian families living in the same building But like the Britishers and Europeans at the Taj and the Trident, the Jews of Nariman House were also kept hostage by the terrorists. They obviously knew what kind of hostages they needed for negotiating their list of demands.
It has been wrongly stated by the state government that there has been no demands from the terrorists. With so much of planning and military trained manpower going into this commando-like seaborne invasion of Mumbai, there has to be a motive , a list of demands pertaining to the release of a prisoner here or a captive in , say, an American prison at Cuba.
The fact that hostages were being released in batches, after an inordinately long delay, indicates that some of their demands were being met. There was a large wave of 93 hostages released from The Trident between 11a.m. and 12 noon but only four of them were Indians (two from Calcutta, one from Mumbai and the third from Singapore). So 89 of the hostages were foreign. Is there release a reaction to a negotiated settlement ? No one really knows since there has been no statement from the Indian authorities on this issue. The rescue operations at Hotel Trident/Oberoi are however over and the premises are fully secure. After a forensics team goes through the hotel premises, it will be handed over to the management.
It may be recalled that a similar hostage scene was negotiated when the IC plane was hi-jacked to Kandahar. Protracted negotiations finally led to the release of three well-known terrorists who went on to form their own terrorist networks.
The battle at Horniman House, Colaba( after 8 a.m.) is intriguing since it is still going on. It is a mere four storey building and should have been re-taken within hours of terrorist occupation. Yet a battle of attrition, named “Operation Black Thunder”is on for the past two days , even though most of the residents were evacuated last evening. The fact that the battle is still on indicates that Jewish hostages are still there and there is a demand to be met.
The Taj Mahal Hotel (after 8 a.m.)
The GOC –in-Command Thambiraj addressed the press and indicated that there was at least one terrorist shuttling between the Ball Room on the first floor and the second floor. There “ was definitely one terrorist but there could be more”, he said. About the presence of hostages, he did not want to clarify.
The NSG stationed outside the Taj took fresh firing positions at around 12.30 p.m. indicating that the battle for the Taj had intensified. A high alert outside the premises was even declared.
By 5 p.m., sporadic firing continued and there appeared no end in sight. One solitary terrorist holding up the might of the NSG ? Not true, there must some more VIP hostages present preventing the NSG from an all-out attack. Come forward and we shoot the hostages, is the message coming down from the terrorists at the Taj and Nariman House. And so there is a lot of sniping and an occasional grenade throwing.
Also what is holding up the NSG charge forward is the possibility of the terrorists being armed with RDX explosives. The DGP of Maharashtra announced today evening that a large cache of RDX was found behind the Taj( The Mathrubhumi had reported that it was found at the famous Bade Mia food stall behind the Taj yesterday). So the presence of RDX, real or imagined, is holding the mopping up operations.