Thursday, November 27, 2008

Maximum City Under Seige

The terrorists have struck again in Mumbai. The city has been under seige for almost twelve hours, as gunmen armed with AK-47s and grenades have stormed close to a dozen targets throughout India's largest city.

Among the notable locations attacked allegedly by the Deccan Mujahideen are the monumental Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapathi Shivaji Terminus) train station, the iconic Taj Palace hotel, and popular Leopold's Cafe. These symbolic sites were struck because they represent the centers of elite life in Mumbai, where wealthy Mumbaikars, tourists, and Western expatriates mingle. The unprecedented scope of the attacks caught the city completely off-guard, as the gunmen entered into the city from boats that docked next to the Gateway of India.

VT station is where two million commuters come and go every day of the week. This is the primary transit hub for the residents of India's financial capital. The assaults inside this station come two years after a series of six blasts in the first class compartments on trains across Mumbai killed 200 people.

But the scale of last night's attacks went far beyond the crowded railways. Attacking tourist haunts, the Cama Hospital, a movie theater, and the creme de la creme hotels make this strike the most bloody and unusual series of coordinated terrorist actions that India has ever experienced.

Mumbai awoke Thursday morning to the shocking sight of the Taj Mahal Hotel burning and army snipers waiting atop the adjacent Gateway of India for the terrorists to emerge. Commandos attempted to end hostage situations at several locales across South Mumbai. Jamshetji Tata's jewel was crackling with the flames of a war initiated by a mysterious terrorist organization. Along with the Trident Oberoi hotel, the Taj is truly a landmark of opulence. Striking at this symbol of affluence makes an enormous statement. Combating so many centers of power with this new kind of terror sets a horrific precedent for the future.

Mumbai is a powder keg, and this explosive series of actions has shocked anti-terror security forces, whose leader was actually killed in gun battles with the terrorists. The level of planning that went into this operation is astounding, and the security forces need to bone up on their intelligence gathering.

Whether the goal of this multi-faceted operation was to destabilize Indian society, kill Westerners, or free Islamic prisoners, terrorism in India has been taken to the next level. It is baffling to try piecing together images of blood splattered across the floor of VT and multiple reports of middle-class, uncharacteristic hostage-takers. Although Western expatriates are disproportionately represented among the victims of the prolonged agony, many questions have yet to be answered.

Does this operation emerge in the anti-Western ideas of Pakistani madrasas? Has it boiled over from the deep poverty of Mumbai's overcrowded slums? How wide is the terror network that carried out the attack? What is the essence of their message?

My home for nine months has been victimized by political violence. But, my hope is that fear and hatred will not prevail in the city of dreams. While train services are running, stock exchanges, schools, and offices will remain closed on Thursday. The young perpetrators of these acts have caught a city that was not well-equipped enough for attacks of this scope, but the city will quickly rebuild.

Jai Mumbai!

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