Ten years down the memory lane, the world saw one of the most devastating and bone-chilling terror attacks on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai when 10 heavily-armed terrorists, belonging to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), sneaked in through the Arabian Sea to claim lives of 166 people while leaving several others bruised.
A whole decade has passed, but an eerie dread remains. Scenes of the bloody mayhem flash in people's minds. It is difficult to bury 166 innocent lives under one's memory, that were ruthlessly taken by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists within a span of three days.
With sinister plans, these extremists unobstrusively entered Mumbai on a cold evening and divided themselves into groups of 2-3 and went after their surgically-planned targets. Well aware of the inputs, they melted into the crowds and walked around in a familiar manner in south Mumbai, reaching their destinations precisely.
Prominent locations--Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Hotel Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Hotel Trident, Nariman House, Leopold Cafe, Cama Hospital, Wadi Bunder--were targeted, while a bomb exploded at suburban Vile Parle in one of the taxis they had earlier hired.
The first group of terrorists barged into the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station and opened fire on crowds indisriminately. About 58 people were killed here and over 100 injured in just 90 minutes.
In next few moments, terrorists blew up a gas station near the Nariman House business and residential complex housing the Jewish Chabad Lubavitch outreach centre. Two terrorists, Babar Imran and Nasir, laid a terror siege at the Jewish centre and slaughtered four Jews, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka. Their son Moshe, who was two-years-old at that time, had survived the attack after being rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel.
Minutes after the attack on Nariman House, terrorists targeted Leopold cafe, a popular restaurant and bar on Colaba Causeway in South Mumbai. It was 9:30 pm when the restaurant was attacked with gunfire and grenades. Leopold lost six customers and two waiters, Peer Pasha and Hidayat Kazi, in the terror attack.
Then Oberoi-Triden Hotel was attacked when two terrorists got into the hotel and began firing.
Later when two terrorists, including Ajmal Kasab, arrived at the back gate of the Cama Hospital, alert hospital staff locked rooms of all the patients. They did leave the hospital but killed six police officers, including chief of the city's Anti-Terrorism Squad Hemant Karkare.
The epicenter of the assault was the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel with its imposing, red-tiled dome overlooking the Gateway of India monument. Thirty-one people died inside the hotel, including staff trying to guide the guests to safety. Visceral images of smoke leaping out of the city landmark have come to define the 60-hour siege.
In the wee hours of November 27, barely six hours after the mayhem started, one of the terrorists, Ajmal Amir Kasab (22), was caught alive following a fierce gun battle with the police near Chowpatty Beach, proving to be a significant achievement.
Kasab and his accomplice were speeding in a hijacked car towards Malabar Hill, where the Governor's residence Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister's official residence -- besides those of other VVIPs -- are located.
An aggressive Mumbai police interrogated Kasab, investigated the matter thoroughly, and identified and named 35 accused directly or indirectly responsible for the 26/11 terror attacks. With the top police brass personally directing investigations, an air-tight case was made against Kasab -- the sole terrorist nabbed alive.
Making doubly sure he would be convicted, the prosecution was handed over to a top criminal lawyer, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam. With his rich experience in the case relating to the March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial blasts, he successfully directed the trial right from the Special Court in Mumbai to the Bombay High Court and finally the Supreme Court.
During the trial, in January 2010, the then Maharashtra Home Minister, R.R. Patil (now deceased), took the bold decision to order the covert burial of the nine slain terrorists. The location is still a mystery.
Finally, two years after the 26/11 carnage, on May 6, 2010, Kasab was awarded the death sentence, and the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Exploiting the legal privileges granted in a democracy like India, Kasab challenged the verdict right up to the Supreme Court but was dismissed at every level. Even the President of India rejected his mercy petition.
Later, on the quiet and cool morning of November 21, 2012, Kasab was hanged inside Pune's Yerawada Central Jail and his body disposed off somewhere on the jail campus. The exact location remains unknown.
Not surprisingly, all the legally tenable actions post-26/11 by India, including the disposal of the terrorists' bodies, Kasab's hanging and his last rites, evoked no international opposition, barring some stray murmurs in Pakistan.
With the experience of 26/11 as a grim lesson, security was boosted on all fronts -- terrestrial, coastal and maritime -- and the outcome is that Mumbai is scarred but safer.
(With agency inputs)