Category Archives: Mumbai 2008

Book review: “Fragile Frontiers – The Secret History of Mumbai Terror Attacks”

Fragile Frontiers: The Secret History of Mumbai Terror Attacks
by Saroj Kumar Rath (Routledge, 2014)

BOOK REVIEW by Elias Davidsson, 27 January 2015

Shoddy piece of propaganda

Under “Acknowledgements”, the author informs readers that his book was “commissioned” but does not reveal by whom.  Although the book presents the outward appearance of scholarship (several pages of acknowledgments and thanks, maps, hundreds of end notes, a substantial bibliography, a list of abbreviations, a glossary and an index), any person who has studied the 26/11 dossier needs only a couple of hours to determine that the book is basically a presumptuous piece of propaganda devoid of scholarly value.

While the author does not hide his animosity towards Pakistan, this by itself does not exclude the book’s value.  Scholarship can be attained despite an author’s bias.  Good scholars are able to set their personal feelings aside.

The subtitle of the book is: “The Secret History of Mumbai Terror Attacks.”  The author, however, dedicates only a single chapter – Chapter 4 – to the actual attacks of 26/11. In the light of the subtitle, this is surprising. Reading through that chapter one faces a new surprise. While this chapter contains literally hundreds of factual statements or allegations, these are supported by only 18 references.  Other chapters, however, are accompanied by far more references:
Chapter 1 (India’s Fragile Frontiers through the Prism of History):  179 notes
Chapter 2 (LeT: From Regional to Global): 161 notes
Chapter 3 (Prelude to Mumbai):140 notes
Chapter 4 (Mumbai outraged):18 notes
Chapter 5 (The After Effect): 55 notes
Chapter 6 (The Motives behind Mumbai): 143 notes
Chapter 7 (The Prosecution): 123 notes
Chapter 8 (The Afghan Conflict, Pakistan Conundrum and India’s Future Security):  27 notes

A good scholar attempts to establish as rigorously as possible the empirical basis of his theoretical observations. The events in Mumbai constitute the empirical basis for the author’s book. Of the 18 sources devoted to the Mumbai attacks, three refer to the author’s interviews with unidentified witnesses, two refer to Vinita Kamte’s book, four cite the Charge Sheet, six cite news media articles appearing between December 3, 2008 to November 26, 2009). Not cited are Kasab’s Judgment, the Supreme Court’s Judgment, testimonies of named witnesses, news reports issued during and shortly after the events and the critical research regarding 26/11 conducted by S.M. Mushrif.  The author does not even mention Mushrif’s seminal book “Who killed Karkare” in his long bibliography.  

Shoddy books of propaganda regarding the Mumbai attacks have been published before. They do not deserve a review.  This book deserves a critical review because the author engages in a double deception: First by suppressing crucial facts regarding the central tenet of his book and secondly by pretending to have written a scholarly work.  

Book Review of B. Raman’s “Mumbai 26/11: A day of infamy”

Book Review of Bahukutumbi Raman’s “Mumbai 26/11: A day of infamy”

By Elias Davidsson, December 23, 2013

Naive attempt to understand 26/11

The author unquestionably attributes the events of 26/11 to the Pakistani organization LeT and also suggests ISI responsibility. The book does not dwell on details and does not contain references to sources. It contains affirmation upon affirmation that the author does not bother to substantiate.

The author does not attempt to hide his admiration for Israel and the United States and his hatred for Pakistan (He often refers to “The Pakistanis” as evil). This does not mean that what he presents as facts is false (or true), but indicates his partiality.

A few observations by Raman indicate that his book was not conceived as official propaganda, but was written by a person who believed what he wrote, but appears to lack the rigour of an investigator or that of a scholar.

(a) Taking a cue from Samuel Huntington’s thesis, he refers expressly to the “war of civilization between the Muslims and the infidels” that had allegedly begun in Indian territory. He suggests that this statement was issued in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) in November, 2007, “after three orchestrated explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh.”

(b) A revealing observation by the author is that 26/11 was “conceived, planned and executed by a mix of military and terrorist brains.” (p. 18) The key word here is “military”, for a military mind is trained to reflect upon the tactical or strategical utility of a particular operation. If those who planned 26/11 had a “military brain”, it must be presumed that they considered the costs/benefits of the operation. Which benefits? For Pakistan or even for the LeT, there was nothing to gain from 26/11.

(c) The author notes that the alleged attackers “were not worried over the dangers of their communications being intercepted.” (p. 22). Assuming that this had been the case, he does not explain why they would be so casual about such interception.

(d) The author tells readers about his participation in a conference at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, in 2005, where he relished listening to Dr. Bruce Hoffman, “who is considered the world’s leading authority on Al Qaeda” (p. 25). Someone who looks upon Dr. Hoffman as an authority on terrorism, has either not read his writings, lacks critical faculties or engages in deception. In a detailed study of Dr. Hoffman’s book on terrorism – unfortunately still only available in German – I demonstrate that his book does not fulfill even minimal criteria of academic standards and objectivity (see […] ). Dr. Hoffman is a charlatan.

(e) In a brief attempt to explain the motives of the alleged attackers, he wrote: “The grievances of the Indian Muslims were not the cause of the terrorist attack. Pakistan’s strategic objectives against India, such as forcing a change in the status quo in J&K and disrupting India’s economic progress and strategic relations with the West and Israel were the principal motive.” (p. 74-5) “Reprisal against the US-led coalition in Afghanistan for its war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban was another motive.” (p. 75)

(f) In order to lend weight to his theories, the author claims that “available reports indicated that the terrorists were looking for American, British and Israeli nationals – particularly visiting public servants among them with official or diplomatic passports.” (p. 82) This claim is based on the first part of an interview with Alex Chamberlen, who escaped from the Oberoi/Trident Hotel. Chamberlen mentioned that the gunmen asked who, among the hostages, were American and British nationals (he did not mention Israelis). What the author suppressed was the second part of Chamberlen’s testimony, namely that after a mobile phone of one of the hostages rang, the gunmen got distracted and thereafter forgot to follow-up their demand for Americans and British nationals. See transcript of the documentary film “Secrets of the Dead – Mumbai Massacre” for Alex Chamberlen’s comments […]

(g) The author contends that the “terrorists” did not have any utilitarian purpose with their attacks: “The terrorists did not appear to have been interested in taking the Jewish people [at Nariman] as hostages and using them to achieve any demand. They just wanted to torture and kill all those found in the premises.” (p. 84) Disregarding the author’s attempt to mind-read the alleged attackers, his facts are also incorrect. They indeed did not attempt to kill all those found in the premises, as eyewitnesses testified. And we do not actually know who killed the Jewish residents. Indian authorities have denied commandos the right to testify and the Israeli government denied investigators the right to conduct autopsies, invoking religious sensibilities.

(h) According to the author Tzipi Livni, then Israeli Foreign Minister, said: “There is no doubt, we know, that the targets the terrorists singled out were Jewish, Israeli targets and targets identified with the West, Americans and Britons. Our world is under attack, it doesn’t matter whether it happens in India or somewhere else. There are Islamic extremists who don’t accept our existence or Western values.” (p. 85-6) Are statements by politicians a proof for anything?

(i) Turning again to the objectives of the alleged attacks, the author writes: “It was evident the terrorist strike had three strategic objectives: firstly, to discredit the Indian political leadership and counter-terrorism apparatus. Secondly, to damage our tourist economy and to create nervousness in the minds of foreign investors about the security of life and property in India. Thirdly, to disrupt the strategic co-operation between India and Israel.” (p. 88) Turning these explanations on their head might be a better answer, for the events of 26/11 created a rally behind the flag in India, gave corporate India a boost, including in the security sector, and strengthened Israeli-Indian security cooperation.

(j) At one point the author acknowledges in passing that reconstructing the entire strike, as part of the investigation “did not receive the immediate attention it deserved. Without a satisfactory reconstruction [of the events], our ability to prevent a repetition of Mumbai – November 26 in other cities would be weak.” (p. 88). On p. 92, the author surprisingly mentions what few had done: “In one’s anxiety to get as much information as possible from the captured terrorist, one did not seem to have paid attention to the important aspect of debriefing all the foreign survivors in the two hotels attacked as to what exactly happened. All of them, after their release, immediately went back to their respective countries. We do not have their version of what happened inside the hotels.” (p. 92). This observation is well grounded, although the author did not attempt to find out why no attempt was to depose the majority of eyewitnesses, including people who told media that they actually observed the killings.

(k) The author devotes an entire chapter to “the need for a comprehensive enquiry” into 26/11. He writes: “One would have expected the Governments of India and Maharashtra to order a joint comprehensive and independent enquiry similar to the enquiries held in our own country in the past and similar to those held in other countries since 2000 to identify the sins of commission and omission and the weak points in our counter-terrorism management and to take follow-up action. Unfortunately, the Government of India focused largely on Pakistan’s involvement in the strike and avoided any independent enquiry into its own responsibility and that of the Government of Maharashtra, which enabled the ISI and the Let to succeed in such a spectacular manner.” (p. 154-5)

He adds: “The GOI was successful in avoiding a comprehensive enquiry because the BJP leadership and the other opposition parties, whose responsibility was to see that there was no cover-up, failed to exercise this responsibility. By their confused inaction, the BJP and other opposition parties played into the hands of the Government and unwittingly facilitated its cover-up exercise. Nobody asked searching questions about our own failures at New Delhi as well as in Mumbai.” (p. 155)

The author acknowledges the set-up of the two-member Pradhan Committee by the Government of Maharashtra, but laments that a “suitably edited version” of its final report was not released to the public. (p. 156) He insists that “the public of this country and its legislators have a right to know what went wrong and why. The national security management system is funded by the tax-payers’ money… The successful functioning of the national security management system depends not only on the quality of the various components of the system, but also on the co-operation which it is able to get from the public…If the public is kept in the dark, how can it have the required confidence in the system?” (p. 157-8)

He furnishes an interesting detail on the grounds for refusing an investigation, suggesting that both sides were posturing: “One was surprised to note that Chidambaram firmly rejected on June 5, 2009, the demand of LK Advani, the leader of the opposition, for such an enquiry. In an interview to some journalists, he gave the following reasons for his rejecting the demand: Firstly, the demand was belated as it came six months after the terrorist attack. Secondly, the Vajpayee Government did not hold an enquiry into the hijacking of an aircraft of the Indian Airlines by some terrorists to Kandahar in December 1999 and into the attempted attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001.” The author then chides these reasons. (p. 158)

The author mentions particularly the “lack of activism by the relatives of the victims of terrorist strikes” in India, and compared that lack of activism to the alleged activism of relatives of such victims in the UK and US. (p. 159). His sweeping allegation aside (Karkare’s widow and Kamte did engage in substantial efforts), he did not take into account that relatives, particularly vulnerable individuals, can be easily intimidated by police to refrain from asking probing questions.

Those interested in the nuts and bolts of 26/11 will find little of value in this book. On the positive side, the author voices a healthy suspicion about the reasons for the Indian government to resist a public investigation. It is to be hoped that the author will feel compelled to probe more deeply into the events themselves before speculating on the motives of the alleged perpetrators.

Book Review: Adrian Levy and Ms. Scott-Clark: “The Siege: 68 hours inside the Taj Hotel”

Adrian Levy and Ms. Scott-Clark: “The Siege: 68 hours inside the Taj Hotel”

By Elias Davidsson, March 25, 2014

Disturbing omissions and opaque motives

Let me first acknowledge the eminently readable and vivid style of the book. 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.

I missed in the introduction a few statements explaining the motives of the authors to write a book about this particular theme. Were they hired to do so? Did they select the theme by themselves, and if so, why? The substantial investigatory work required for writing such a book, certainly required financial resources. Did any institution help finance that work and if so, who?

The authors do not provide a timeline for the events at the Taj. Was this omission deliberate? The fact that no such timeline has been released by Indian authorities is disturbing, as it suggests an intent to suppress knowledge about the events. The authors do not that fact, which is rather surprising and reeks of a deliberate obfuscation.

I note with dismay some important omissions. The authors fail to 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.

The author rely heavily on Michael Pollack, a U.S.-based businessman turned academic. 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 the authors’ RIP, included in the book, 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 his 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 the authors’ 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 The Siege, four 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 wrote: “It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.” Yet, according to the authors, the terrorists did not kill all hostages: K.R. Ramamoorthy and four other hostages the terrorists held in room 632 were left to their own devices by the terrorists. There are other testimonies demonstrating that the terrorists did not target everyone.   It is, therefore, surprising that the authors should rely on such an unreliable witness.

The book’s subtitle is “Three days of Terror inside the Taj.” Officially, the crisis at the Taj lasted 59 hours. The authors devote almost 200 pages of their book to the first 10 hours of the crisis and only 20 pages to the remaining 49 hours. This huge discrepancy could not have been accidental. This discrepancy can also be observed in the Judgment of the Special Court on Kasab, which skipped almost entirely the 49 hours in which the NSG commandos were active in the Taj. What were the NSG doing in these 49 hours, which neither the authors nor the court wished to reveal?.

The authors rely extensively on sources that readers cannot verify. Under “A Note on Sources”, the authors, for example, state: “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.” They also mention other unpublished sources, such as court documents and CCTVs. The authors do not explain on what account they obtained privileged access to such sources, to which even the families of the 26/11 victims did not obtain access.

From the above account it appears that the authors of The Siege were cooperating with intelligence agencies in India and the United States in promoting the official legend on 26/11. I have given the authors sufficient formal notice to address the above points. They chose not to answer my enquiry. I think potential buyers should know what they contemplate to buy.

Letter to Ms. Scott-Clark re. “The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj [Mumbai]”

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.

Sincerely yours,

Elias Davidsson