Unsettling questions Regarding 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008
The traumatic attacks in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 were described as India's 9/11. The operation was unprecedented: ten young men battled hundreds of highly trained commandos for three days in a conflict that resembled David and Goliath. The huge media coverage created the impression that all the relevant facts about this event had been reported, but this impression is false.
Was anti-terror official Hemant Karkare deliberately killed on 26/11? Most probably. But what are we to make of the attacks on the Leopold café, the Taj, the Oberoi/Trident and the Jewish centre at Nariman House, all unrelated to his demise?
Even those who suspect that Indian nationalists facilitated the assassination of Hemant Karkare continue to believe that the attacks on the other Mumbai targets were executed by Pakistani terrorists. According to this line of reasoning, Hindu nationalists joined with Pakistani terrorists to coordinate a double attack. Or one of these groups somehow obtained the exact details of the other group's plans, including their date, time and location, and piggy-backed on them, praying that there would be no last-minute changes, delays or problems. Miracles do happen, they say.
As someone who does not believe in miracles, I have some pieces of information. This was all reported at the time, but has since been condemned to the memory hole. Each piece of information cracks the official legend of 26/11. Cumulatively, they shatter it.
1. The number of attackers
As the smoke of 26/11 dissipated, Indian authorities insisted that exactly ten young men had fought more than one thousand Marcos commandos, NSG commandos, police and security personnel for three days.
Yet, initially, the media reported that more than 20 attackers were involved. Vilasrao Deshmukh, for example, who was at the time the Maharashtra state chief, told Indian media on 27 November 2008 that 20 to 25 terrorists had entered Mumbai, and that many of them had escaped. He was not the only source for such figures. The New York Times reported on 28 November 2008 that 'the number of attackers have ranged from 20 to 40, with the number depending to a considerable extent on the number of boats involved.' On the same day, USA Today reported, citing the Associated Press, that "more than 30 terrorists entered [Mumbai] by ship." Ha'aretz reported on 27 November 2008, that "nine members who were arrested...60 to 70 terrorists, some of whom came to Mumbai by boat, carried out the current attacks." Alex Neill, head of the Royal United Services Institute's Asia security programme, estimated that "up to 100 terrorists would have been involved in the planning and execution of the attack" and said "it was surprising they had managed to keep it a secret."
Who provided the media with these figures, on what basis, and for what purpose? Why has no journalist attempted to reconcile these initial figures with the ultimate tally of ten? Rakesh Maria, at the time the Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police, had a ready answer: "This confusion is more or less a creation of the media."
As the Mumbai authorities persisted in asserting that there had been only ten attackers, the New York Times wondered: "[P]erhaps the most troubling question to emerge for the Indian authorities was how, if official estimates are accurate, just 10 gunmen could have caused so much carnage and repelled Indian security forces for more than three days in three different buildings." But the paper of record did not follow up on this "troubling question." Was it a no-go zone?
2. Were nine attackers arrested?
According to the official account, only one of ten attackers, later known as Kasab, remained alive. The other nine were reportedly killed in combat. But this was not what officials had initially said.
At first, the media reported that several 'terrorists' had been captured alive. P.D. Ghadge, a police officer at Mumbai's central control room, told the media on the first day of the attacks, "We have shot dead four terrorists and managed to arrest nine suspected terrorists.' On 27 November, both Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil declared that at least nine terrorists were captured alive. Early on 27 November, the BBC quoted the Mumbai Police: "four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested." On 28 November, the third day of the attacks, the BBC cited R R Patil, again to the effect that "nine gunmen have been arrested." Meanwhile, The Hindu cited Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh: "nine persons had been detained."
As late as on 29 November, the Indian Express cited the Director General of Maharashtra Police, A N Roy, who said: "All I can tell you at this stage is that nine suspects are with us and that some of them were picked up from around the operational areas. Once we finish questioning them, many facts will emerge. The whole story will shortly unfold."
Then nothing more was heard of these arrests. The same media that previously reported that up to nine attackers had been arrested insisted that only one "terrorist" had been captured alive. This change of narrative was not accompanied by any explanation. Did public officials lie about the multiple arrests? Were they lied to? Were arrested terrorists executed in custody? These are disturbing questions that remain unanswered.
Whatever the ultimate truth, it is clear that the authorities lied to the public, either initially, or subsequently, or both. Knowing why they lied may help reveal the hidden truth behind 26/11.
3. Who were the alleged attackers?
The public has been led to believe that the Mumbai attackers were properly identified. But were they?
To find out, it was necessary to determine, firstly, whether the bodies of the persons under police custody belonged to those who were observed by witnesses at the sites of killings; and secondly, the identities of the dead – from where they came, their real names, their birth dates, etc.
According to pathologists, the nine bodies presented to witnesses were burned beyond recognition. Whatever the state of the bodies, a visual identification of mutilated bodies, weeks after the events, under the prying eyes of police officials, cannot be considered a reliable exercise.
Nor were the real identities of the persons, whose bodies were held by police, determined. Their real names, birth dates, nationality and their residence addresses remain unknown. No family member came forward to identify either the bodies or the "sole living terrorist", Kasab. His identity was based on what he allegedly told police officials behind closed doors.
Even the circumstances under which the nine "attackers" died were not established by investigators or the Special Court. Did these alleged militants die in a military clash in Kashmir? Were they executed after being captured? Why are the precise circumstances in which they died kept a state secret?
4. Did the 'attackers' come by sea?
A sub-story of the 26/11 legend is that the attackers arrived in Mumbai by sea. Did anyone witness their landing at the seashore?
Only one person, Bharat Tamore, testified at Kasab's trial that he observed young men landing on the Mumbai seashore on the evening of 26 November 2008. Was his testimony credible?
Tamore said in court that at the time he was employed by the Taj Mahal Hotel. He said that on 26 November at about 9:15 pm, while he was walking to work at the Taj, located 15 minutes from his residence, he saw "a dinghy coming towards Badhwar Park." He said he saw 10 persons on the boat, wearing saffron-coloured life-saving jackets. He could see them because of the street light. According to him, they all were between 20-25 years old. Eight of the said ten persons removed their jackets and put them in the boat before getting out. Each had one haversack and one hand bag. Tamore said he saw two of the said ten persons quite closely while they were proceeding towards the main road. Since both of them were unknown in the locality, Tamore intercepted them. Both of them told him that they were students. He also saw the remaining six persons proceeding towards the main road. The two persons who were left out in the boat proceeded in the same boat towards Nariman Point (Judgment, p. 264).
Tamore told the court that he returned home from the Taj at about 7.00 am next morning. At that time, he had seen about 3-4 policemen standing near Badhwar Park Railway Officers' colony: "The policemen were talking something about [an] inflatable boat. [Tamore] therefore narrated the incident witnessed by him to the said policemen" (Judgment, p. 265).He also said he identified Kasab in an identification parade as the person who told him they were students (Judgment, p. 266).Tamore admitted under cross-examination that he might have seen Kasab's photograph on television before the identification parade was held (Judgment, p. 267). The Supreme Court revealed that this identification parade was held on 28 December 2008, after Kasab's photograph had been widely and repeatedly published (SC, p. 53). The High Court "did] not attach much importance to this."(HC, p. 432).
The defence counsel challenged Tamore's account: it was high tide at the time, and therefore the dinghy Tamore claimed to have seen could not have reached the seashore. Tamore admitted that it was high tide at the time but did not explain how the dinghy reached the seashore (Judgment, p. 266).
When making his first report to the police, Tamore surprisingly did not mention anything regarding the incident at the Taj, where he allegedly spent the entire night (Judgment, p. 267). The court did not invite anyone to corroborate Tamore's narrative. No one, for example, confirmed that he was an employee of the Taj; that he spent the night confined in the basement of the hotel; that he did not see or hear any of the incidents occurring in the hotel; that he exited the hotel shortly before 7:00 am; and that on his way home he met policemen at the shore discussing a boat. No one confirmed what he actually told the police and when he did so. These failures are particularly significant - and disturbing - because Tamore was the sole witness produced in court who claimed to have observed people landing on the Mumbai shore on the evening of 26 November 2008. These failures are compounded by the facts that he told media after the trial regarding his alleged ordeal at the Taj, facts that he apparently withheld from the court, unless he lied to the media. The court's failure to thoroughly examine Tamore's credibility can hardly be attributed to negligence or to difficulty in finding staff members of the Taj who could corroborate or invalidate his narrative. The court also did not ask the police officers with whom Tamore interacted to confirm his story. The court, obviously, did not wish anyone to challenge Tamore's narrative.
Tamore's name was widely publicised in the media shortly after the attacks as the key witness to the landing of the alleged terrorists at the seashore. India Today wrote on 29 November 2008, for example: "The six terrorists who got off at Machimar Nagar were first spotted by Bharat Tamore, a Koli (from the fishing community) who works as an assistant supervisor at the Taj." This report did not quote Tamore directly, and it was not revealed how India Today discovered Tamore.
After Kasab's trial, Tamore and his wife were interviewed by Rediff. In this interview, new information came to light about his alleged experience at the Taj during the first night of the attack. Here is an excerpt from that article:
When Tamore reached his locker [at the Taj] and changed at about 9.30 pm on November 26, he heard some strange thumping overhead in the hotel's coffee shop, the Shamiana. Surprisingly, it continued. And got louder and stranger in sound. Then hordes of terrified employees, on the run, came pouring back into the staff area, where Tamore still was, and shared breathless descriptions of the ongoing attack and the terrorists. "They recounted that they were wearing jeans, and 'sack bags' (rucksacks) on their backs and carrying bags in their hands". Suddenly with cold foreboding Tamore knew exactly who they were.
He then said that his experience at the Taj was not limited to what others told him: 'They herded about 100, 150 of us into an area near the bakery and told us to stay here. At the time we thought it was a temporary attack and we would get out after it was over. Who knew they would be there for three days?! We had no water, no food. And no way of telling people at home that we were still safe. We had all turned our phones off."
Going by this account, Tamore not only saw terrorists at the Taj and heard them giving orders, but was kept with 100 or 150 other people without water and food. Yet, surprisingly, he did not report anything about this traumatic experience to the police or the court. Indeed, the court actually affirmed that he "had not seen anything of the incident" at the Taj (Judgment, p. 265-6). Did Tamore lie to the journalists, did the media invent his account or did he withhold information from the court?
Rediff finally disclosed that "much of early 2009 was marked by recording [Tamore's] testimony, working with the Mumbai Police's crime branch to have his deposition ready." Tamore added: "There is a little Hanuman temple near my home. Every day when I passed it I would pray that god would give me the strength to see this through properly. That I would give the right information in court. And do the whole thing correctly. It was an attack on my home, my livelihood, my country. I had to testify." It certainly required substantial mental and emotional strength to "do the whole thing correctly" and avoid contradicting himself. Let's hope the police were happy with his performance after having coached him for "much of early 2009."
According to media reports, three further persons had seen the "terrorists" landing on the Mumbai seashore: Anita Uraiyar (aka Uddaiya), who claims to have been taken secretly to the United States for debriefing after 26/11; Prashant Dhanu(r), a fisherman who testified in court but did not claim to have seen any of the attackers; and Sumit Supadia, who claimed in media interviews to have seen the attackers land on the seashore, but was not asked to testify in court.
In sum, the story of the "ten" attackers landing on the Mumbai seashore rests on the testimony of a single witness who was coached by police for his court performance and whose credibility is questionable.
To enhance the credibility of the sea-landing legend, CNN-IBN reported on 27 November 2008 that seven fishermen had been arrested on the first night of the attack as suspects, reporting that "police found a boat loaded with explosives near the Taj Mahal." Nothing further was heard of that boat, the explosives or of the detained fishermen.
(5) Were the individual killings investigated?
In a case of murder, criminal investigators must determine, as best they can, the circumstances under which the crime was perpetrated: who caused the victims' injuries, when and where they were attacked, when they died and what type of injuries led to their death. The crime scene must also be documented in accordance with standardised rules.
While investigating the individual circumstances of more than 160 killings (the number of fatalities in the Mumbai events) was certainly a huge task, a great deal of significant information could easily have been assembled. There was no reason why the precise location of the bodies, when they were found, and who found them, could not be established. There was no reason why the exact circumstances in which the nine alleged attackers were killed could not be determined. There was no reason why investigators could not establish precise timelines of the unfolding of the individual episodes. There was no reason why it was impossible to determine the precise time at which the individual attacks started. These omissions had the effect of thwarting the reconstruction of the events. To compound these omissions, the authorities banned commandos, who participated in the operations, from testifying in court. Cumulatively, all these omissions indicated an intent to cover up the truth.
Surprisingly, the court found no witnesses for most of the killings - or perhaps it did not wish to find any.
The above account represents the tip of a deceptive iceberg regarding the mass-murder of 26/11. Some may find reopening this dossier uncomfortable. Yet both the victims and society as a whole are legally entitled to know the truth of this calamity. The Indian authorities have demonstrated a surprising reluctance to establish the truth by an independent commission of inquiry. Meanwhile, Indian governments have capitalised on 26/11 to increase military expenditure, establish a national infrastructure of mass surveillance and enhance their cooperation with the United States and Israel. India has become a national security state. Was 26/11 perpetrated to justify this development? This sinister question deserves to be examined.
(The present information was adapted from the author's book The Betrayal of India, which is planned for publication at the end of 2015. Elias Davidsson is an Icelandic citizen, although he was born in Palestine in 1941 and his parents were German Jews who had to leave Nazi Germany due to the persecution of Jews. Davidsson has been a political activist for decades, beginning by opposing Iceland's membership in NATO. He is a co-founder of the solidarity association Iceland-Palestine, and a veteran opponent of Zionism and imperialism. After publishing a ground-breaking book in 2013, "Hijacking America's Mind on 9/11", where he demonstrates the official account on 9/11 is a lie, now is finishing a comprehensive and critical study of 26/11 that may shatter many illusions. He can be reached at )