It was a bizarre incident. Perhaps security officials should have seen what happened in March 2007 in the waters off Mumbai, a city of 18 million people, as a warning. That was when the crew of an Indian coast guard vessel noticed a fishing cutter coming from the north.
When the officers stopped the boat, they found, in addition to the crew, eight young Pakistani men who had no business being in Indian territorial waters. The men were so intent on being allowed to continue to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, that they offered the Indian officials a bribe.
The Indians took the money and allowed the eight Pakistanis to continue, but they were not truly corrupt. Instead, they quickly placed a small homing device on board the fishing boat and notified Indian intelligence.
A short time later, the Pakistanis were apprehended and questioned. The intelligence agents soon realized that they were dealing with Islamists from the Pakistani organization Lashkar-e Taiba. But they never learned what the men were doing in India.
Today, more than one-and-a-half years later, Indian intelligence agents are connecting the dots between that incident and last week's attacks in Mumbai. They believe that the Islamists may have been on a test run to figure out the best way to bring a certain number of men from Pakistan to Mumbai by sea.
That trip was probably a dress rehearsal for the attack that began last Wednesday evening. It ended in more than 170 dead and almost 300 wounded, after Mumbai was attacked by at least 10 Islamists. They arrived in inflatable boats, wore athletic shoes, trendy cargo trousers and backpacks -- young men who looked like backpacking students.
With the ongoing fire from their Kalashnikovs, and with hand grenades and explosives, the attackers set off a panic in India's largest city and the rest of the country. To the horror of the rest of the world, they targeted Americans, Brits and Israelis. Some holed up in the enormous Taj Mahal Hotel in the eastern part of the city, others went on a murdering spree in the five-star Hotel Oberoi-Trident, a few hundred meters away in western Mumbai, while a third group killed commuters at a train station farther north. The streets between these sites were transformed into a triangle of terror.
This was no ordinary, al-Qaida-style bombing. It was a military commando action, precisely planned and carried out in cold blood, a nightmare that lasted more than 45 hours, until the police and military finally managed to end the massacre.
An Outpost of the West in the East
Mumbai represents the side of India it wants the world to see: modern, open, capitalist, global and affluent, the financial capital of a country seeking international recognition. For this reason, no other city in India has attracted as much of the destructive fury of Islamists as this halo on the Arabian Sea.
Mumbai is like an outpost of the West in the East, a city of stock markets and the Bollywood film industry, the financial center and dream factory for a country of one billion people, India's New York and Los Angeles rolled into one. For those who want no part of the West's focus on money, globalization and modernity, Mumbai is a Western den of iniquity. For those who yearn to be a part of it, Mumbai is a melting pot.
The city is a magnet for thousands arriving from rural areas, who end up in teeming slums, hoping to work their way up to the sunny side one day. Mumbai, with its 18 million people, could soon be the world's second-largest city after Tokyo. There is unbelievable wealth and devastating poverty, and even without religion, Mumbai offers plenty of material for conflict fueled by hate.
The Islamist terrorists apparently hoped to strike two enemies at the same time. They wanted to strike a blow at modern India, to avenge their oppressed fellow Muslims and wrest part of the divided region of Kashmir from Indian control. But it was also an attack on the West, as evidenced by the terrorists' singling out of British and American citizens, by their targeting of the famous luxury hotels where foreigners stay and by their attack on a Jewish center. Up to 20 of the dead are foreigners, three of them apparently from Germany. The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation has sent four officers to Mumbai.
In committing the murders, the terrorists added a global charge to a regional conflict. There are three powder kegs lined up next to each other in this region: ethnically diverse India, embattled Afghanistan and unstable Pakistan. These three countries contain enough explosive material to shake the entire world, especially because India and Pakistan, archenemies, have nuclear warheads and this attack could propel them toward new hostilities.
This melting together of conflicts is typical al-Qaida strategy from the Osama bin Laden school. It breaks down international borders. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine to Indonesia, wherever the supposed true believers are battling the supposed infidels, everything flows together into one great conflict, the "clash of civilizations" that US political scientist Samuel Huntington foresaw at the end of the Cold War. According to Huntington, the main battle lines would soon no longer be drawn between the two major blocs and ideologies, but between cultures and religions, especially between the Western and the Islamic worlds.
'Gateway to India'
The most recent battle in this war began when the Islamists' black-and-yellow inflatable boats set out -- presumably from a mother ship out at sea, as Indian investigators believe. They also speculate that some of the terrorists arrived by land a few days earlier, but that the men on the ship brought the weapons.
On Thursday, an Indian coast guard helicopter discovered the Kuber, a fishing trawler, unmanned and adrift in the Indian Ocean, with the body of a man believed to be the captain on board, his hands tied and his throat slit. The terrorists may have hijacked the boat. Investigators are currently analyzing the data on the ship's navigation system and satellite telephone. It could reveal where exactly the terrorists came from.
Skyscrapers point the way to downtown Mumbai, where the famous "Gateway to India" monument stands. It would also serve as the terrorists' gateway to Mumbai. The city is on an island, and its downtown area is surrounded by water on three sides -- the ideal setting for attackers arriving by sea.
Once on land, the Islamists stole several cars and a police van. They separated into at least five groups and set off on their mission. Possibly the first shots -- officials have not yet been able to reconstruct the course of events leading up to Saturday morning -- fell at about 9:30 p.m. at the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station.
In the Victorian terminal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at least two terrorists pulled automatic weapons out of their bags and began shooting randomly and tossing hand grenades at commuters. "The men seemed calm and focused. They were not in a hurry at all. They did not seem to be afraid of anything," says an employee at a nearby café. One of the men would fire while the other one reloaded, according to the café employee. About 40 people were killed or wounded.
At about the same time, their collaborators began shooting wildly in the lobby of the 105-year-old Taj Mahal, a hotel popular among the international elite, including politicians, millionaires and celebrities. A palace with more than 565 rooms, hand-woven silk carpets, alabaster ceilings and crystal chandeliers, the Taj Mahal has accommodated such famous guests as Prince Charles, Jackie Onassis, David Rockefeller, Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger.
The Taj is a world-class hotel managed by an international staff, including a German deputy director. One night in a room in the hotel's main wing costs about $500 (€400), breakfast not included. The Taj is almost always filled with foreigners.
When the first shots fell, Erika Mann, a German Social Democratic politician and member of the European Parliament, was sitting in the hotel restaurant with some Indian acquaintances. She was in Mumbai to conduct negotiations on trade relations. "Odd, we thought, perhaps this is the gun salute for a wedding," she said a few days later. But what happened next, says Mann, was "pure horror."
The exact whereabouts of Ralph Burkei -- the treasurer of the Munich branch of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and vice president of TSV 1860, a Munich football club -- in those first few minutes are still unclear. Burkei, 51, a partner in C.A.M.P. TV, a media company that produces the program "Bayern Journal," was vacationing with his girlfriend at the Taj. He attempted to flee when the Islamists arrived, a move that would lead to his horrific death.
Andreas Liveras, 73, a British national with an estimated net worth of close to half a billion euros, remained relatively cool at the beginning. He earned a portion of his wealth with a frozen pastry business, but later in life he derived his income from chartering his two motorized yachts: The 90-meter (295-foot) Lauren and the 85-meter (279-foot) Alysia are available for rent beginning at €696,000 ($870,000), VAT not included.
When the shots began, Liveras took cover under a table in the restaurant. A short time later, he called the BBC to report on the fighting and bomb explosions around him. By then, complete mayhem had erupted on the streets of Mumbai. A taxi blew up under an overpass, and a few terrorists drove through the streets, shooting indiscriminately into the crowds. Some victims who had been brought to a hospital were shot at a second time by the terrorists in front of the hospital.
Five Islamists stormed a famous restaurant, the Café Leopold. According to the "Lonely Planet," the Leopold attracts tourists from around the world like moths to a flame. "All of a sudden there was shooting coming from automatic weapons, and the whole place exploded," says Diane Murphy, a British citizen. "It was extremely loud, and my husband and I were hit" -- she in the foot and he between the ribs. Within minutes, the interior walls were covered with bullet holes and people were lying in pools of blood. The terrorists also threw hand grenades in the restaurant. All that remained of one victim were his shoes.
Soon the police arrived, followed by soldiers and later special forces -- heavily armed and dressed in black uniforms. By then the shooting was coming from all sides. The terrorists were firing so wastefully at anything that moved that some officials believe that they may have set up ammunition depots days before the attacks. By that time, another group of terrorists believed to consist of seven armed men had begun their attack on the Oberoi Trident, another luxury hotel that competes with the Taj. They singled out Britons, Americans and Israelis. Snipers went into position on surrounding rooftops. One hostage wrote "Save us" on a sheet and hung it from a window. Later on, a large fire erupted at the Oberoi, and fires soon broke out at the Taj Mahal, as well.
At roughly 9:45 p.m., a group of terrorists attacked a Jewish center in the Colaba tourist district. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, ran the center as a so-called Chabad House, sponsored by the ultra-orthodox Lubavitch Society in New York. Chabad Houses serve as shelters, synagogues and meeting places for Jews in dozens of countries around the world.
The rabbi and his wife were already asleep when the Islamists arrived. Others in the house included the devout couple's two-year-old son Mosche, a nanny and three other Jews. The nanny and one of the Jews escaped and hid in a storage room. After 12 hours in the hiding place, she heard the Holtzberg's young son crying.
The nanny ventured out and saw Mosche standing next to his parents, who were lying motionless in pools of blood. She grabbed the little boy and ran out of the building.
Later on, a special unit used a helicopter to storm the Chabad House and shot two terrorists. By then, the hostages had all been killed, most of them with their hands tied.
In the period following the attack on the Chabad House, several news agencies and newspapers in Mumbai received an e-mail in which a group calling itself the "Deccan Mujaheddin" claimed responsibility for the attacks. No one had ever heard of the group.
'You Have Wronged Us'
That night, a terrorist holed up in the Hotel Oberoi gave a telephone interview to the Indian broadcaster India TV, in which he demanded the immediate release of all Islamists imprisoned in India. "You have wronged us and forced us to suffer atrocities," he said, explaining that this was why he and his brothers were now willing to die as martyrs. The man, who called himself Sahadullah, spoke Punjabi with a Pakistani accent.
The reporter asked whether the Deccan Mujaheddin had ties to al-Qaida. No, the terrorist replied, al-Qaida had cut off ties with his group. How many weapons do you have left?, the journalist asked. We still have a few presents left over for you, the man replied, followed by the sound of shots being fired in the background.
The Deccan is a high plateau in southern India. But it was doubtful if a local, previously unknown terrorist organization could truly execute an operation of this magnitude without outside support. How much in the way of logistics does an attack of this nature require?
Not much, Indian security officials in Mumbai said on Thursday. Almost all of the targets were "soft targets," that is, places with little security and easy access for the assailants. The bombs, say Indian experts, were small and manageable, and the idea of arriving by sea, though clever, did not require the involvement of a large organization.
It was evident, said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the fighting, that the attacks were carried out by a "group based outside the country." Was it just an Indian reflex, to blame neighboring Pakistan? Or did the premier have more information than that? Singh said that he had proof to support his theory that the terrorists had come from abroad, although his government declined to say exactly what the evidence was.
A Region That Has Always Seethed with Violence
Some signs seemed to point in a completely different direction -- inward. There is plenty of anger and hate to go around among India's Muslims, just as there are plenty of men within that group who idolize al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The decades-long good relationship between the Muslim minority and the Indian state was severely shaken in 2002, when a Hindu mob hunted down and killed about 2,000 Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Meanwhile, the international politicization of Islam has not gone unnoticed among Indian Muslims. In response to the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005, radical Muslims staged angry protests in India. And not every terrorist arrested by Indian security forces has completed his training in Pakistani or Afghan camps. There are also terrorist training camps in the forests of the southwest Indian province of Kerala and in central India.
And then there was a more recent warning from inside India. On Saturday, Sept. 13, five bombs exploded in New Delhi, killing 20 people. On the same day, various newspapers received an email signed by a terrorist group known as the "Indian Mujaheddin." Many now assume that this group is behind the attack on Mumbai, and that is may be a sort of umbrella organization for the Deccan Mujaheddin.
In November 2007, the Indian Mujaheddin claimed responsibility for its first attacks -- in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Since then, it has also claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in recent months, killing 130 people this year. For the Islamists, the Indian Mujaheddin is battling the government to exact revenge for the persecution of Muslims in India.
In its hate-filled September e-mail, the group announced attacks in Mumbai: "As deadly as the attacks facing residents of Mumbai will be, the only elements responsible for this are the members of the Mumbai counterterrorism unit." The special force is considered violent in its treatment of Islamists. In their e-mail, the terrorists wrote that the names of police officers responsible for the violence were on a death list, and that this time they were very serious.
Shortly after the first shots were fired in the Taj Mahal Hotel on Wednesday evening, hotel security personnel ran into the restaurant. "Quick, quick," they shouted, herding the guests into the kitchen. "Then we hid, as well as we could," says German member of parliament Erika Mann, "always moving from one spot to the next, constantly fleeing." Next to her she saw Indians, Japanese and Arabs running for their lives. "There was one woman who was screaming horribly," says the politician, "she had been forced to leave her two babies behind in the lobby."
Mann and others ran down a spiral staircase into underground hallways. "There were shots behind us," says Mann. But eventually she ran into soldiers who were apparently shooting at the attackers behind her, and after that she was safe.
Unlike Mann, Andreas Liveras, the frozen pastry multimillionaire, never made it to safety with the soldiers. He was found dead later on, with several bullets in his body.
Instead of following the rest of the group out of the restaurant, Ralph Burkei, the man from Munich, tried to climb down the outside of the hotel. He fell and landed on an awning. He must have been in terrible pain, but he was still alive when he used his mobile phone to call a friend in Munich. "I've broken all of my bones," he said. "Unless someone helps me now, I won't make it."
Burkei called his friend several times that night. But help did not arrive at the awning soon enough to save his life.
The attack on Mumbai has finally turned the world's attention to a region that has always seethed with violence, one in which murders of politicians occur periodically and where terror is practically part of daily life.
India is home to 150 million Muslims, more than in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia combined. Nevertheless, they are a minority of 13.4 percent in a country of more than one billion people, and many are still tormented by the traumatic memory of one of the biggest expulsions in world history.
When Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru led India to independence in 1947, the British colonial power ordered the division of the subcontinent into two nations, the Union of India and the much smaller Islamic Republic of Pakistan, from which East Pakistan seceded in 1971 to become an independent state, Bangladesh.
The announcement, on the day after independence, of the location of the new border marked the beginning of a conflict that expanded into the second ongoing international political crisis, next to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, brought on by the disintegration of the British Empire: the struggle between warring brothers, Pakistan and India. It was this same struggle that led to the Mumbai massacre.
It began with an ethnic cleansing campaign of previously unknown proportions, in which 5.5 million Hindus and Sikhs were drive south and about six million Muslims north across the new border. Pogroms erupted in villages, neighbors attacked neighbors and almost a million people lost their lives at the hands of violent, fanatical religious warriors. Since its bloody beginnings Pakistan has been plagued by the fear of being swallowed up by its much larger neighbor.
A constantly bleeding wound in this conflict between neighbors is the crisis over one of the most beautiful parts of the world, the Himalayan region of Kashmir. At the time of independence Kashmir, a former princely state, was ruled by a Hindu maharaja, despite the fact that it was 80 percent Muslim. Pakistan, eager to annex Kashmir, sent in Muslim irregular troops. The beleaguered maharaja turned to New Delhi for help and surrendered his realm to the Union of India, which also sent soldiers.
Since early 1949, Kashmir has been split along a United Nations-brokered ceasefire line. India and Pakistan have already waged two bloody wars over Kashmir and threatened each other with nuclear annihilation. Former US President Bill Clinton called the paradisiacal region "the most dangerous place on earth."
The Pakistani military believed it had a good opportunity to weaken India when, in 1989, a rebellion broke out among Muslims in the Indian part of Kashmir. The Pakistan intelligence agency, ISI, invited young Kashmiris to cross the border for training, only to send them back as trained fighters. India brutally struck down the rebellion.
In response, the ISI changed course. From then on, the intelligence agency no longer used primarily Kashmiri nationalists, but Pakistani and Kashmiri Islamists, who invoked jihad against India and sought to "Islamize" Kashmir. After having given the al-Qaida terrorists their start by supporting the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis paved the way for Islamist terrorists to head south.
Even al-Qaida leader Bin Laden had close ties to Kashmiri terrorism. In a new book, former CIA agent Bruce Riedel, now an advisor to US President-elect Barack Obama, describes how Bin Laden and the ISI cooperated in the establishment of the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has since expanded its attacks well beyond Kashmir to strike India directly.
Three months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, a suicide commando attacked the Indian parliament. The incident almost sparked a war between India and Pakistan, because the government in New Delhi saw the handwriting of Pakistani intelligence in the attack. It was only through pressure from Washington that a new war was prevented.
It is precisely those terrorists who apparently almost triggered a nuclear war at the time who the Indians now believe are behind the attacks on Mumbai.
The Pakistan Connection
If it turns out that the terrorists did in fact come from Pakistan, the world will face a new round in the dangerous dispute between the two archenemies. The conflict harbors the risks of a war between the two nuclear powers, which explains why Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has been so eager to show a willingness to cooperate. He is sending his foreign minister to meet with Singh and his intelligence chief and his staff to India to assist in the investigation.
Even before the hours of horror in Mumbai had ended, Indian authorities apparently found evidence of a connection between the attackers and the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
As the Indian special forces units advanced through the hotels, room by room, they witnessed grisly scenes, liberated the Islamists' hostages and shot one attacker after another. One terrorist at the Taj Mahal managed to hold out until the end.
"There were bodies lying all over the place, and there was blood everywhere," says one officer, describing the scenes when the Indian authorities stormed the hotel. They counted 50 dead in the lobby alone, and more bodies in a room on the third floor. They also discovered the Islamists' supplies: dates, almonds and bullet rounds. The attackers had apparently prepared for a prolonged siege.
While freeing the hostages, the Indian special units also captured at least one of the terrorists alive. At first the media reported three captured gunmen. On Friday the PTI news agency reported that they had confessed that they were members of Lashkar-e Taiba, or "Army of the Pure."
On Friday evening, the British Daily Mail newspaper reported that at least two of the men arrested were British citizens of Pakistani descent. Scotland Yard sent a team to Mumbai to help Indian investigators. However, the British connection seemed to be discounted over the weekend.
According to the latest media reports, there is one Islamist in police custody, a 21-year-old Pakistani named as Ajmal Qasab who says he was trained in Lashkar camps.
And Indian intelligence is claiming that the attackers, using satellite phones, spoke with men in Pakistan during the gun battles, even speaking directly with a Lashkar commander.
RÜDIGER FALKSOHN, CLEMENS HÖGES, HANS HOYNG, JULIANE VON MITTELSTAEDT, PADMA RAO, BRITTA SANDBERG, HANS-JÜRGEN SCHLAMP, BERNHARD ZAND
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan