Friday, November 28
The stench in the area around Nariman House is just as bad this morning when I return, awakened by the big Russian-made helicopter that has just dropped nine black-clad elite National Security Guard (NSG) "black cat" commandos on to the roof. There's a big crowd watching. I can hear loud intermittent rifle fire. It stops and then nothing happens.
Back at the hotel where the air conditioning is straining to beat unseasonable heat and a party of big taciturn Russians is roasting by the little pool, a TV news report is saying that the army believes there are five terrorists at the Taj but that the Oberoi has been cleared of terrorists and is being "sanitised". The DNA newspaper says the opposite, its banner headline shouting: "Taj Taken, Oberoi Next." It says, "There were 20 to 25 fedayeen in the operation...More than half were eliminated or arrested after the Taj operation ended successfully." In fact, it will be another 24 hours before the Taj is cleared.
The foreign media assumes al-Qaeda is behind the attacks although a terrorism expert friend in Delhi calls to tell me that she thinks the attacks bear all the hallmarks of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihadist group, now based outside Lahore in Pakistan, which wants to bring all of Kashmir under Pakistani control. It has close links with the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, al-Qaeda and Dawood Ibrahim, the exiled capo di tutti capi of the Mumbai underworld. It has been responsible for multiple terrorist attacks here, including an attack on parliament in December 2001. The international reports seem to focus almost exclusively on foreign hostages, though the attacks have primarily targeted Indians and their foreign business partners.
I leave to meet a contact who lives in a tower in the smart Breach Candy area, on the seaside highway that everyone calls Warden Road, even though it has been renamed Bulabai Desai Marg. My taxi zooms down Marine Drive (also renamed by Shiv Sena, to little effect). Normally, this famous, extraordinarily beautiful, long curve of road is packed with traffic. Today we are the only vehicle, a shaking, creaking little Fiat Padmini running at top speed, my driver riding the central divider like a monorail. The beach is empty. All the stores and restaurants are closed.
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