Paris Attack Evokes Haunting Memories in Mumbai

Rohit Wadhwaney
151116-mumbai-620 An Indian commando takes position during the third day of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Nov. 28, 2008.

When Mumbai resident Tarun Sethi woke up Saturday to a text message from a friend, his heart skipped a beat.

“Mumbai-style attack in Paris. Switch on news,” the message read.

Sethi, 33, a survivor of the Nov. 26 to 29, 2008, terror attacks in India’s financial capital, said his hands shivered as he pressed the power button on his TV’s remote control.

“As soon as the news came on, I got goose bumps, my eyes welled up. I was scared, sad and furious at the same time,” the advertising professional told BenarNews, describing his reaction to Friday night’s attacks that targeted a sports stadium, a concert venue and restaurants in the French capital.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the simultaneous attacks by gunmen suicide bombers that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more.

In Mumbai seven years ago, as many as 166 people were killed and hundreds were injured when 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants, armed with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades, launched a dozen attacks across Mumbai, including on two luxury hotels, the city’s railway station and a Jewish center.

The siege ended when Indian security forces neutralized the militants, who had taken hundreds of people, including foreigners, hostage at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi Trident and Nariman House.

The 2008 Mumbai attacks became a blueprint for other terrorist plots worldwide, according to Saikat Datta, a visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank based in New Delhi.

“While a 9/11 is spectacular in planning and execution, it is also far more difficult to do so in today’s age of increased surveillance. But a Mumbai-style attack is far easier to plan and execute, with equally deadly results,” Datta wrote in a column published on the website

“To procure and smuggle in small arms, motivate suicide attackers and then unleash them on vulnerable public spaces is the worst nightmare for security professionals,” Datta added, warning, “Now, with a ‘spectacular attack’ in Paris, the LeT is likely to renew its efforts to repeat a 26/11-style attack.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Afsir Karim, a counter-terrorism expert, agreed that the Islamic State militants who attacked Paris probably took a page from the Mumbai attacks to cause maximum damage.

“There is certainly a pattern in terms of militants fanning out across a big city and choosing soft targets to kill as many people as possible,” Karim told BenarNews.

Still, Karim said, he does not believe terror outfits are competing with each other.

“LeT might join forces with the IS to launch an attack on India. That’s the real threat,” he said.

The difference between the attacks, New Delhi-based security analyst Bibhu Routray told BenarNews, was that unlike the Mumbai attackers who had come prepared to prolong the siege, the Paris attackers “wanted to kill as many as possible as fast as possible.”

Still haunted

For Sethi, the similarities between the attacks in Paris and the 2008 Mumbai attacks “brought back haunting memories of that day seven years ago” when he had gone to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai’s main railway station.

The attacks in Paris reopened those wounds, Sethi said because they bore an uncanny resemblance to the one he survived in November 2008.

“It was about 9:40 p.m. My cousin had just left on the train and I was having a cup of tea at a stall in the station. Suddenly, I heard the sound of bullets. People started running in every direction. I took cover behind a wall and watched many drop to the ground as they were being hit,” Sethi said.

About 60 people died in the shootout at the railway station.

“After about 10 minutes, I made a dash for the exit. I didn’t dare see which direction the bullets came from. But I could hear them. I somehow managed to escape without being shot,” he said.


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