Hard to believe it’s been 10 years, but in 2008, over the Thanksgiving weekend, terror hit hard in India. And it gripped the world for three days.
I covered that story. Between November 26th and 29th, and for 62 hours — 10 Pakistani men carried out a series of shooting and bombing attacks that lasted four days, killed 164 people (including six Americans) and injured more than 300. The attacks happened at a railway station, two hotels, a cafe, a hospital, a movie theatre and a Jewish community center. It was a devastating act of carnage, all played out on the global television stage. Etched in my memory was the four-day-siege at the Taj Mahal Palace, a majestic hotel I’ve stayed at numerous times. Before the terrorists were killed at that location, they also set fire to the hotel — but not before killing 31 people. Inside the hotel, guests and employees hid under dining room tables in the restaurant and turned out the lights as the gunmen raced through the halls, looking for more people to shoot. They were intent on killing Westerners — British and American travelers at the hotel. I later watched the hotel security tape and gasped as the gunmen ran down the hallway outside the hotel’s restaurant. One of the terrorists tried opening the door. But it seemed to be locked. He tried to pull it open. It didn’t. But it wasn’t locked. He continued running down the corridor. It was a stroke of luck. Had he pushed the door instead of pulling, it would have easily swung open and allowed him to spray his automatic weapon inside that dining room, where about 200 people were hiding. But he didn’t, and kept moving down the hall. That saved countless lives. In the end, while the hotel’s General Manager survived, his wife and children did not. They were among those who were shot.
And what has happened in the 10 years since this terrible tragedy? The only terrorist who survived, was charged and formally convicted of murder and waging war on India in 2010. He died by hanging on November 21, 2012. And in 2015, despite India’s protests, the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan ordered the release of alleged mastermind of the plot.
And now, 10 years later, like the Mandalay Bay hotel shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, many questions remain, not just about the lessons learned in the wake of the shootings but whether or not those lessons have actually been applied in terms of travel security and not just in India but around the world. Are the hotels in India safer now and better protected against such attacks? Yes. The Taj Mahal Palace was repaired and reopened. Security has been strengthened, both in visible ways — metal detectors at every public and employee entrance — and in terms of the number of security personnel as well as their training. The same can be said for The Oberoi, which had also been attacked. But what about hotels in the U.S.? What lessons have been applied since those terrible days of November, 2008? The answer, sadly, is…very few. A majority of Western branded hotels, or hotels where Westerners stay, remain easy, soft targets, and poorly defended or prepared against similar attacks. And that’s a very scary thought on this 10th anniversary of what was a painful, and deadly teaching moment for the world.
By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com