Coming down heavily on the hotel managements for ignoring specific security warnings, a government-appointed probe panel set up after the 26/11 terror strikes has said that the lack of police presence outside the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels allowed heavily-armed Pakistani terrorists to walk in rather smoothly.
The two hotels and the Leopold Cafe — the worst—hit sites during the terror strikes last year — in south Mumbai were ill-prepared to thwart the attack despite their managements being informed about specific intelligence warnings that the Lashkar—e—Taiba (LeT) was planning to target them, says the report of the R.D. Pradhan probe committee.
The three sites were specifically named in different intelligence tip-offs, the panel found during its investigations.
The hotel managements ignored the warnings and didn’t take proper security measures as advised by the police, it says.
“In this context, the committee is constrained to observe that tragically, the Taj and the Oberoi managements did not implement certain important security advice given by (police) because of their own policy perspective for the hospitality industry,” states the report.
IANS has accessed a copy of the 90-page probe report, written up by former home secretary and Arunachal Pradesh governor R.D. Pradhan, and former civil servant V. Balachandran.
The report notes with concern that a police picket near the Taj Mahal hotel was removed 43 days before November 26, 2008, when 10 terrorists sneaked into Mumbai via the sea route and held guests at the two hotels hostage during a 60-hour carnage in the city which left 166 people dead and brought the state government to its knees.
Police had kept a two-man picket at the entrance of the hotel but it was withdrawn Oct 13, the report says, pointing out that the officer in charge of the Colaba police station had taken it off it without informing his seniors.
Even mobile police were not in the vicinity when the attack was launched.
“Thus, on 26/11, when the two terrorists walked inside the Taj into the lobby, there was no picket or mobile police... In other words, there was no police presence in front or around the Taj when two terrorists entered from two different directions.”
“Incidents like the (attack on) the Taj where the police picket was removed would not have occurred” if there was a proper mechanism to decide whether an alert issued earlier should be downgraded or removed, the report points out.
An Intelligence Bureau (IB) alert was received on September 24, 2008, that the LeT was showing interest in certain targets like the Taj Mahal hotel. Prior to that, an alert dated Aug 9, 2008, indicated that possible bomb attacks were being planned to target the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, as also the World Trade Centre that is also in south Mumbai.
Earlier on June 26, 2008, an input had alerted that Leopold Cafe was mentioned as one of the sites for attacks.
The report said the police visited these places and reviewed the security measures and conveyed similar warnings to other hotels, malls and important commercial establishments in south Mumbai.
Police instructed the Taj Mahal hotel to stop entry from the vulnerable Northcote (sic) Gate through which two terrorists entered. The management was also asked to have a single point entry to the hotel and install and use doorframe metal detectors, according to the report.
A police team also met manager Karambir Kang but the hotel authorities ignored all these warnings, the report, seen by IANS, says.
There were three intelligence alerts from the IB about the possibility of an attack on a Jewish centre. But the alerts had not specifically mentioned about Nariman House housing a Jewish centre, the report says.
Nobody had an idea that there was a Jewish sect residing in Nariman House, it adds.
Even a police branch in charge of foreigners’ division didn’t know about it or “for that matter not even the local Israeli Consulate had any idea that there was a Jewish sect”, the report says.