Exactly fifteen years ago, in the heart of Mumbai, the nation’s financial capital, a sombre chapter was etched as a part of the lively city’s history. The blistering sounds of gunfire and the deafening blasts of explosives turned iconic landmarks into scenes of chaos and silenced the vibrant spirit of the city of dreams, as it is popularly known. The 26/11 attacks not only shattered the bustling metropolis but also left an indelible mark on its psyche.
The Mumbai Attacks
On the night of 26 November 2008, ten men travelling on inflatable speed boats came ashore on the coast of Mumbai, the jewel of the Arabian sea. Over the next three days, these men inflicted unspeakable horrors that this historic city would not forgive or forget for years to come.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
The team of ten men split into two groups immediately after coming ashore. The attacks began at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where some of the unfortunate passengers were waiting for delayed trains. At 21:30 hours, two men stormed in, showering a spray of bullets upon the confused and terrified passengers at the station. These two men, who would later be identified as the notorious Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan, would kill a total of fifty eight people and injure many more at the CST alone.
The brave actions of one man, Vishnu Dattaram Zende, the on-duty announcer that night, saved the lives of hundreds. Vishnu Zende, with access to the announcement system, was quick to act when he saw the terrorists and heard the sounds of the assault rifles and grenades blasting through an otherwise eerie silence. He quickly directed hundreds of people out the station and ensured that they would not cross paths with the terrorists on their way out. He would also guide rescue personnel in their services to the injured after the attack.
After attacking the CST, two terrorists headed to the Bhikaji Cama hospital for women and children as a part of their plan. As the terrorists killed the security guard and jumped over the walls, police engaged the terrorists. However, the terrorists continued to hail bullets and grenades at the hospital. As things were looking bleak, the nurses of the Cama Hospital stood together to save their patients, switching off lights in wards, locking the doors and wheeling away patients, including women in labour, to safety. One nurse, named Anjali Vijay Kulthe, saved twenty lives that day.
At the same time, two other terrorists sprayed bullets in Leopold cafe, a cosy hangout spot in Colaba. Ten people were killed in this brief but deadly attack.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Around 2300 hours, four terrorists descended on the pride of Mumbai, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel. The terrorists strategically cleared the hotels by the floor, but brave members of the staff acted quickly to save the lives of hundreds of guests. After a painstaking siege and bloody operations by the police, naval marine commandos and the elite commando force, the National Security Guard, the hotel would finally come under the control of the security forces on the night of November 29, 2008. By attacking this iconic landmark of the city, the terrorists aimed to destroy the very soul of the city. While much of the hotel was destroyed in the three day siege, it recovered from the attack and continues to honour the heroes that saved the day.
The Oberoi Trident
The Oberoi Trident is one of Mumbai’s premier five star hotels. It was targeted on the night of 26/11 by two of the ten terrorists, who took several guests hostage and killed more than thirty of them. After three days under siege, it was taken over by the National Security Guard.
Nariman house was a jewish outreach centre in the Colaba area, and was the epicentre of the Jewish community in Mumbai. Nariman house was taken over by two terrorists and six people, including the Rabbi Gavriel and his pregnant wife, Rivka, were killed. The Rabbi’s two year old son, Moshe, was saved by his nanny, named Sandra Samuel, who safeguarded the little boy to her best efforts. He is now a teenager, living and studying in Israel under her care. Nariman house was later secured by the National Security guard.
The Heroes of 26/11
The seventy-two hours starting from the night of 26/11, 2008 were probably the most tumultuous in Mumbai’s recent history. While the incident gave the city its deepest scars, it also produced some of its finest heroes, a few who lived to tell the tale and a few others who were martyred in the line of duty as they helped their fellow man out of danger. These are some of 26/11’s finest heroes from the Indian security services.
Operation Black Tornado
Operation Black Tornado was the name given to the sieges and subsequent operations carried out by the elite National Security Guard at Nariman House, The Taj Hotel and the Oberoi Trident Hotel. During Operation Black Tornado, eight of the ten terrorists were eliminated.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was one of 26/11’s finest heroes. Thirty-one year old Major Unnikrishnan was the commander of the 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guard, which had been deployed in the Taj hotel. As a part of the operation, he rescued several hostages and even sent a commando who had been grievously injured to safety before he chased terrorists on a floor above all alone, despite being shot in his right arm. It was in an encounter here that he was martyred in the line of duty. Major Unnikrishan lives on in the memories of several Mumbaikars who witnessed his heroic actions and Indians who have sourced inspiration from him.
ASI Tukaram Omble
On the fateful night of 26/11, ASI Omble was one in a team manning a police checkpoint for vehicles. As terrorists approached his checkpoint in a hijacked vehicle, it resulted in a shootout, killing one terrorist. As the dreaded Ajmal Kasab stepped out of the car feigning surrender, ASI Omble approached him unarmed to apprehend him when Kasab opened fire. ASI Omble bravely held on to the barrel of the gun and the terrorist, even standing in the way of the fire so as to ensure that no one else was shot. He was shot a total of twenty-three times in close range from the powerful AK-47 machine gun. As he collapsed, the rest of his team arrested Kasab. His actions, even in his dying moments, ensured that one of the key perpetrators of the Mumbai
Havildar Gajendra Singh
Havaldar Gajendra Singh was one of the NSG’s 51 Special Action Group and was a part of operations at the Nariman House. He was martyred in his line of duty. The following is his Ashok Chakra citation.
In the night of 27th November 2008, Havildar Gajender Singh was leading his squad in the operation to rescue hostages from the terrorists at Nariman House, Mumbai.
After clearing the top floor of the terrorists, he reached the place where the terrorists had taken position. As he closed in, the terrorists hurled a grenade injuring him. Undeterred, he kept firing and closing in on the terrorists by exposing himself to the hostile fire. In the act, he injured one of the terrorists and forced the others to retreat inside a room. He continued the encounter till he succumbed to his injuries.
Havildar Gajender Singh displayed most conspicuous courage against grave odds and made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in combating the terrorists.
Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Inspector Vijay Salaskar
Hemant Karkare was the chief of Mumbai’s ATS or Anti Terrorist Squad at the time of 26/11. He was a distinguished IPS officer who had a number of accolades to his name. He was even a part of the Research and Analysis Wing, having served in Austria for six years.
Additional commissioner of Police, Ashok Kamte, was an excellent police officer who was known for his calm temperament and negotiation tactics. He was the Additional Commissioner of the Eastern zone of the city of Mumbai, which was not under attack. Nevertheless, he had offered his assistance.
Inspector Salaskar was an excellent officer of the Mumbai police and had eliminated a number of dreaded criminals of the city. He fearlessly went behind the Mumbai underworld and its biggest dons, even making public statements about Arun Gawli after he became an MLA.
These three distinguished police officers and four others were heading to the Bhikaji Cama hospital, where they had heard that ACP Sadanand Date had been injured in his efforts to protect the Bhikaji Cama hospital. On their way to the hospital, terrorists had stepped out from behind a tree and shot everyone in the van dead, except Inspector Arun Jadhav, who lived to tell the tale. These brave men have been awarded the Ashok Chakra for their commitment and supreme sacrifice.
In the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, while scars remained, Mumbai emerged stronger, its heartbeat echoing tales of courage and unity. From extraordinary police officers to ordinary service staff of hotels, many heroes emerged. Through pain and loss, the city discovered its collective strength, turning adversity into a catalyst for change. The heroes of 26/11 embody the true spirit of Mumbai- a city that, despite its wounds, stands tall, rebuilding not just its structures but also its spirit