Letter to Ms. Scott-Clark re. her book “The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj [Mumbai]” published with Adrian Levy
Elias Davidsson, August 10, 2014
A work on the threshold of fiction
On December 30, 2013, I addressed to the authors, through their publisher, a number of questions regarding their book. Having received no acknowledgment or reply, I reiterated my questions on March 6, 2014. I have not either received a reply. I feel now justified in publicizing my letter.
Dear Ms. Scott-Clark,
I have been reading and re-reading the book you jointly wrote with Adrian Levy, “The Siege”. I also found out that you left The Guardian and that you do not anymore use email. That is the reason I write to you through the publisher.
As an independent researcher, legal expert and author of a book on 9/11 (“Hijacking America’s Mind on 9/11”, Algora Publishers, New York, 2013), I am currently investigating the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
Let me first acknowledge your eminently readable and vivid style. The dramatic composition of the chapters puts it at the threshold of fiction, which – depending upon the perspective – could be considered an asset or a liability. It is very helpful to have included diagrams of two floors of the Taj, an annotated list of the fatalities, and extensive quotations. Going by the annexes (A Note on Sources and Acknowledgements), I gather that writing your book took a lot of time and substantial financial resources.
By comparing your book with other sources, I am nevertheless compelled to raise a number of questions. I would be most grateful for your answers.
1. What motivated you to embark upon the research on 26/11? I tried to find in your book some indications regarding your motivation but did not find any definite answer.
2. Can you give some indication regarding the amount of work you spent on this project and the size of financial resources involved? Is it impertinent to ask who financed this project?
3. Your list of fatalities at the Taj contains 33 names. That of the Judgment of Ajmal Kasab contains 36 names (thereof the name of Teitelbaum probably a mistake, for he died at Nariman House). I could not reconcile this discrepancy. Are you aware of it, and if so, what is your explanation. The Judgement refers, to two individuals who allegedly died at the Taj, but are missing from your listing: Eklak Ahmed Mustak Ahmed and Shoeb Ahmed Shaikh.
4. For several fatalities, no information could be found in your book regarding the circumstances in which these individuals had died (their names are listed under RIP):
• Willem-Jan Berbers was allegedly shot while he was checking in. I could not find in your book any evidence for this information, nor anywhere else. What is the source for this claim?
• Feroz Khan and Maqsood Shiekh are two individuals who allegedly died while visiting an MP in the hotel. I could not find, either, any evidence for these claims, neither in your book nor elsewhere. Actually, the very existence of these individuals could not even verified. Nor was the name of the MP revealed. Could you provide some verifiable background?
• Ravindra Jagan Kuwar is described as a security officer who was shot in the hotel. I could not find any source for the circumstances of his death. Can you provide some?
5. I have noted that you did not provide a timeline for the events at the Taj. You are certainly aware that the Indian authorities failed to determine when precisely the deadly events started at the Taj. Is the lack of a timeline in your book a deliberate omission, or weren’t you able to establish it, and if so, why?
6. Although your book purports by its length and apparent thoroughness to provide a definite account of the events at the Taj, I wonder why you did not mention a number of witnesses who reported highly significant facts. Among those are Mr. Prakash Bhoite, who testified about bombs he discovered outside the Taj; NSG commando Rajbir Singh Lamba, who participated in the encounter at room 472; Mr. A. Vaidyanathan, an eminent economic and member of the Central Board of Directors of the Reserve Bank of India, who reported multiple large explosions from his room; Bruce Hanna, President and CEO of InterGlobe Technology Quotient in New Delhi, who was confined to room no. 527, and compiled a detailed account of his text messages with exact times (he revealed surprising facts); Myles Curtis and Hugh Brown from Australia, who claimed that two terrorists hid among the guests; as well as Yasmin Wong, William Hsu, Sonali Chatterjee and Andrew Stevens from CNN, who stayed at the Taj during the crisis and provided real-time coverage from the building.
7. One of the witnesses on whom you heavily rely is Michael Pollack. Yet, his personal account, published by Forbes, contains at least five dubious statements, suggesting that his testimony is not credible. He wrote that the terrorists “had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately,” implying thereby that numerous guests had been hit in the lobby. Yet, according to your RIP, only one of the 33 fatalities of the Taj (Sadanand Patil) was shot in the lobby and he was apparently not shot initially when the terrorists entered the hotel but a later stage. Pollack also wrote, without qualifying this statement: “We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon.” Yet, according to your RIP, not a single person was killed in the Harbour Bar or at the Golden Dragon. Pollack also wrote: “[T]he terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement.” Yet, according to your book, only the following persons were killed in the basement (cellars): Gunjan Narang, Nilam Narang, Vishu Narang and Chef Boris Rego, although far more persons had sought refuge there. Pollack also wrote: “It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.” Yet, according to your book, the terrorists did not kill some hostages, such as K.R. Ramamoorthy and four other hostages the terrorists held in room 632. All of the five hostages were left to their own devices by the terrorists. There are other testimonies demonstrating that the terrorists did not target everyone. Pollack also wrote: “The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists.” According to official sources, the NSG commandos only began slowly deploying at the Taj after 9.00 a.m. (November 27). The MARCOS “commandos” who arrived at 2.00 AM were – as you reported – stood down and did not engage in any battles during the first night. So who were battling whom during the night, as claimed by Pollack? And why did you rely on such an unreliable witness?
8. Your book’s subtitle is “Three days of Terror inside the Taj”. Indeed, the crisis lasted approximately 60 hours. Yet, in your book you devote almost 200 pages to the first 10 hours of the crisis and only 20 pages to the following 50 hours. I gather that this huge discrepancy in coverage must have been deliberate. I noted that the Kasab trial also skipped almost entirely over these 50 hours in which the NSG commandos battled the gunmen. My question is: Why did you devote so little space to the lengthiest period in the Taj crisis?
9. In your book you rely extensively on sources which ordinary people cannot verify. Under “A Note on Sources” for example, you write: “We obtained audio files and transcripts from the wiretaps placed on the gunmen’s phones from Indian, US and British security sources, the most complete to be assembled, which includes material never published before.” You mention similar access to other unpublished sources, such as court documents and CCTVs. My question is: On what account did you obtain privileged access to sources to which even the families of 26/11 victims do not have access?
Hoping to read your response, I wish you and your colleague, Adrian Levy, a good new year.