Forty-five minutes at Cama

SIEGE: The sixth floor corridor of Cama hospital where Date and his team engaged Kasab and another terrorist. The 5-star luxury Oberoi hotel at Nariman Point and the Taj at the Gateway of India were among the other targets of the terrorist group

We have not learnt any lessons from the terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. It may be recalled that a group of 10 Pakistani terrorists sailed all the way to Mumbai and held the city under siege for three days. Among the targets were the Cama Hospital near the Police Head Quarters, VT Station and the Taj and the Oberoi hotels. Goa is very vulnerable as any of the 5-star hotels can be targeted by terrorists who attack from the sea. Here we are carrying a first person account of that day by top cop Sadanand Date

November 26, 2008. It was around 9.45 pm. I had just finished dinner, and was about to go to bed. My wife was watching a cricket match on TV. I told her that I was calling it a day. As I was heading to the bedroom, the TV flashed reports of firing at multiple places in south Mumbai. I immediately realised that my day was far from over.
I told my wife that I was going back to the office. I called my driver and operator, changed into uniform and messaged my boss, K L Prasad [then joint commissioner of police, law and order]. I asked him if I was expected at the place of firing or at my regional HQ [Date was additional commissioner of police, central region of Mumbai; the attacks were in south region]. He told me to rush to the spot near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), where the firing was going on.
My residence fell under the jurisdiction of Malabar Hill police station. So, I left home with my standard issue pistol and went to the police station to collect automatic weapons and bulletproof vests. While I was at the police station, I heard two blasts. Soon, a message came in about a bomb explosion at the US consulate. Since the consulate fell under Malabar Hill police station, I rushed there. Once there, we realised that no blast had taken place; wireless reports confirmed that it was a rumour.
So, we went to south Mumbai, towards Metro Cinema, near CSMT. As I was heading to Metro Cinema square, I heard over the wireless that attackers had opened fire at CSMT and moved on towards the Times of India building and Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) Hospital. At Metro Cinema square, I left my car. I thought it was better to take stock of the situation and walk to GT Hospital.
But then a message came in that the attackers were at Cama and Albless Hospital. So, I walked towards Cama Hospital, which is a few hundred metres from Metro Cinema square. A couple of officers and policemen joined me. In all, there were seven of us — myself, two assistant police inspectors, one sub-inspector and the rest from other ranks.
As I reached the hospital, I saw two bodies at the entrance. Someone came running and said that the attackers had gone to the fourth floor, to a maternity ward. He was a hospital employee and offered to lead the way. I asked one of the assistant sub-inspectors to take a defensive position and guard the entrance, as that was the only way the attackers could leave the hospital. At that point we had no idea that it was a terrorist attack. I felt that some crooks had gone overboard. The control room, too, did not have any clear indication about the nature of the threat.
I quickly briefed my team, emphasising that the hospital setting demanded extra caution. I told them that we would fire only if we were fired at, or if were about to be. As we were entering the lift, another person came running and said that the attackers had moved to the terrace.
So, we took the elevator to the sixth floor. We were now six persons in uniform and the hospital employee, our guide. At the sixth floor, I took the lead, as I was wearing a bulletproof vest. I asked the team to take care and not shoot me from behind. And then, I took the stairs to the roof.
Four steps away from the terrace door, we stopped. I thought it was unwise to charge, and decided to provoke a response. So, I asked the men to search their pockets for something that would make a sound, like coins or keys. Anything we could throw on to the terrace. We came up with nothing.
So, we went back to the sixth floor to get something. We eventually got the metal clips that hold the electricity pipes together. We went back up the stairs and I tossed the clips through the half-open terrace door. In response, the person guarding the door fired a burst of automatic fire. The ricocheted bullets injured Constable Sachin Tilekar, my operator, who was standing just behind me.
Later, I would know that the lookout at the door was Ajmal Kasab. His partner was Abu Ismail.
The automatic fire convinced me that this was a serious attack. I also realised that we were in no position to engage them; we had just two carbines and our sidearms. So, I decided to block the stairs — the only exit from the terrace. On the sixth floor, we scouted for positions from where we could cover the stairs. I then radioed the control room, updating them about our position and about the Kalashnikovs on the roof.
As we waited, we saw someone coming down the stairs. Our guide told me that he was his colleague. I called out to him in Marathi, asking him to stop and raise his hands. He signalled that there was someone behind him — Kasab and Ismail. We could not see them, as they were crouching at the end of the staircase, closer to the terrace. I fired a warning shot above his head and ordered him to come down. He ran down the stairs towards us.
During Kasab’s interrogation, he said that he had warned the man that the police would shoot at him if they had any suspicions and thus he would be their shield. But, I had only fired a warning shot. At this, Kasab and Ismail rushed back to the terrace, and the man ran down to us.
As soon as he reached us, we debriefed him. He said that there were two attackers with modern weapons, and that they had hostages, including doctors. As we were talking to him, a grenade — a green ball — came towards us. It hit the lift doors and exploded — two-and-a-half feet away from us. We lost Sub-Inspector Prakash More on the spot; all of us were wounded. My eye was injured, and I was dizzy. Once again, I updated the control room about our status.
I was sure that unless we continued counter-attacking, the terrorists would grow bold, attack us and escape. But my colleagues were all injured, and in no shape to be on the offensive. So, I asked Tilekar and others to leave and get their injuries dressed. I instructed Tilekar to guide the reinforcements to my position through another staircase, and not the one we were guarding. So, the three others gave me their weapons and ammunition and left. Constable Vijay Khandekar, who was unable to move, and I were the only ones left on the sixth floor.
Khandekar was badly injured, so effectively I was alone. With the others gone, I continued to engage the terrorists. In between the firing, they lobbed two grenades. I succeeded in pinning them down on the terrace for about 40-50 minutes .
At about 11:50pm, the fifth grenade exploded in front of my foot. The pain was so bad that I had a blackout. As I came around, I sensed movement on the staircase: two people were on the landing between the sixth and fifth floors. I fired twice with a revolver. I was running low on ammunition and realised that I would be in trouble if they turned back to engage me. So, I walked a few paces to change my position. Kasab and Ismail threw a grenade at me and went down the staircase. They left behind equipment, ammunition and, most importantly, their hostages.
During the investigation, I learnt that one of my bullets had hit Ismail in the torso. Kasab said they thought we were a large police team, so they used the grenade to clear the way and flee. And that explains why they did not turn back to confront me.
I quickly radioed control room to tell them that the terrorists had left the hospital and were on the move. I advised all teams nearby to be cautious, and requested urgent medical assistance for Khandekar and myself.
As I lay there injured, I heard a long volley of fire after about 10-15 minutes. I think that must have been the firing that led to the deaths of Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, additional commissioner Ashok Kamte and senior inspector Vijay Salaskar.
Help for me came at about 12:45am; I guided assistant police commissioner Sunil Temkar and his team to our location. Till then, I endured the pain and fought to remain conscious. Observing pain as pain, and as nothing more, nothing less — a lesson taught to me in Vipassana meditation — was helpful. I tried to help Khandekar with his pain, too.
The 26/11 attack was, by far, the most challenging event of my career. Some events stay with you lifelong. I carry with me those moments of pain and the memories of my fallen colleagues.
But, I also carry a measure of satisfaction that I did my duty that night to the best of my ability; fear did not touch my heart nor deter me from discharging my duty.

Courtesy: The Week

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