MUMBAI: For residents of the bustling Indian port of Mumbai, the horrific attacks in Paris on Friday night carry somber echoes of a bloody series of killings in their own city seven years ago. A total of 166 people were killed in November 2008 when Islamist gunmen stormed luxury hotels, the main railway station, a Jewish centre and other sites in the booming metropolis, the financial heart of India. “Anger is filling up inside me again as the pictures, the videos and the social media chats make me relive the horror of that night even more graphically,” said Sourav Mishra, who was injured in the November 26 attacks.
Mishra was enjoying a beer with friends at Leopold Cafe, a popular tourist haunt in the historic district of Colaba, when two gunmen burst in. “One second I was drinking and chatting with my friends… the next second we had bullets whizzing past killing fellow diners,” he said.
The coordinated spate of attacks began at around 10:30 pm when gunmen armed with powerful assault rifles and grenades seized two five-star hotels, the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Trident, taking hostages. Military commandos later stormed the Taj and began a battle with militants that transformed the city into a war zone for 60 hours as live television footage of the shootout was beamed around the world. Fifty-two people died at the Taj Mahal hotel while another 38 perished at the Oberoi Trident.
A 20-minute killing spree at Mumbai’s main railway station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, left some 80 people dead. “It had a psychological effect on each and every ‘Mumbaikar’. The entire city was under siege for three days,” said Manoj Singh, 39, who was working at a television station in Mumbai at the time. “This is French media, so they do not show all the images. But I could see the pictures they are not showing in my mind,” he said.
Mumbai and New Delhi were placed on high alert following the attacks on the French capital, with beefed-up security at airports and metro stations, a Home Ministry official said. There was no specific threat to the Indian cities, he said, adding that raising the alert level was “standard procedure” following large-scale terror incidents.
Nirmala Ponnudurai, who had to have a piece of bullet shrapnel removed from her head after being shot at the station, said the events in Paris “bring back all the memories”. “Even after the years have passed by it’s not an easy situation to deal with,” she said. Chintan Sakariya, who witnessed the attack on Nariman House, a Jewish Community Centre,” said reading about the Paris attacks on Saturday morning had given him “goosebumps”.
“The memories are fresh and unforgettable. They are horrifying,” he said. The Paris attacks have echoes of the Mumbai atrocity not just in their co-ordination but in their choosing of “soft targets”, according to terror analysts. “There are similarities because of the targeting of a restaurant, a crowded place and in terms of targeting a prominent city,” Sameer Patil, a terrorism and security expert in Mumbai said.
While it took less-experienced Mumbai three days to bring the city under control, “because of the law enforcement machinery that Paris has and the experience of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January” French special ops were able to quickly mobilize a response, he said. Vappala Balachandran, former deputy head of India’s foreign intelligence agency, said while the security services had learnt from the 2008 attacks, the Paris atrocities showed how difficult they were to prevent. “Even the better protected countries and cities are not able to stop the subversion from within and the fact that terrorists are constantly adapting,” he said. — AFP