“Finally, on 26 November, the GPS had sounded their arrival off the coast of Mumbai, and they had called Karachi to find out what to do with the captured captain. It fell to Ajmal Kasab to act. He had just turned twenty-one and felt compelled to prove his worth. Two others held the Indian sailor down, while Ajmal slit his throat. Blooded, they jumped into a yellow dinghy that pulled them onwards towards the glistening Indian city.”

This is not a scene from an action thriller but an excerpt from the prologue of The Seige: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj, a thoroughly researched book on the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. It’s a true story that’s as thrilling as any work of fiction.

The story is set in the financial hub of India, Mumbai. A city of extreme contrasts. Home to the destitute, the sick and the poor. It’s lavish hotels and mansions the playground of the sixth highest number of billionaires in the world.

It is in the spectacular Taj hotel that we find many of the city’s ‘elite’. Surrounded by their armies of private security contractors and hotel staff, they sipped their cocktails and dined in fine restaurants, blissfully unaware that their protection is but a thin veil. The guards at the hotel were unarmed and the Mumbai general duties police were only issued WW2-era bolt-action rifles. Worse still, the police ‘Striking Mobiles’ had no ammunition for their FN FAL assault rifles.

Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured.
Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who was captured.

When ten highly trained fedayeen from the backwaters of Pakistan attacked, each with eight magazines for their AKs, eight grenades, a 9mm pistol with three mags, and a fifteen-pound RDX improvised explosive device, the results were predictably disastrous.

Three days later the last of the terrorist pairs were finally neutralized. In this time they’d attacked five targets and killed 165 people. Elderly, women and children were all brutally massacred in an attack that rocked the counter-terrorism establishment. A new threat had been realized; the active shooter scenario had become a devastating reality.

Inside the Taj (from Mumbai Crime Branch)

The Seige shares the experiences of all sides involved, including the victims, the security forces and (surprisingly) the terrorists. It looks into the human side of tragedy, telling the story of heroes like the Taj hotel’s General Manager who refused to leave, survived the attack but lost his wife and two sons. The hotel’s celebrity Head Chef who lost seven of his staff, gunned down in the kitchens, and insisted on personally cleaning the blood off the floors. Or the NSG Major who rescued a team member wounded by a grenade, before being gunned down leading an assault.

NSG post-mission

These tragic stories are made all the more bitter when the litany of failures behind the government response is revealed. Despite US intelligence services providing accurate and detailed threat warning for the attacks, the Mumbai police were hopelessly unprepared. The national counter-terrorism response force, the NSG, were ready to deploy within 30 minutes of the first shots but, due to a lack of aviation assets, they didn’t arrive until seven hours of brutal bloodshed had already passed. When they finally arrived they had to commandeer local buses to get to their target.