Washington, DC – Commemorating the 13th Anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Embassy of India hosted a solemn event to pay tribute to its victims. Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Sudhakar Dalela presided over the event, which was attended by Jennifer Larson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State; Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad); and community members.
Thirteen years ago, on the night of November 26, 2008, 10 heavily armed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists entered Mumbai via sea route and went on a rampage killing 166 people, and injured over 300 in coordinated attacks on the Chatrapati Shivaji terminus railway station, Leopold cafe, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Oberoi Trident hotel, and Nariman Point Chabad House that lasted for four days.
In his remarks, DCM Dalela said, “These dastardly attacks were not just against India, but against the entire humanity. As we gather to mark the 13th anniversary of these heinous attacks, we mourn and pay tribute to the innocent lives lost, while also sharing the pain of those who were injured.” He recalled the honor and sacrifice of the valiant security personnel who laid down their lives. Expressing solidarity with the families of the victims, DCM Dalela spoke of the continuing threat that terrorism poses to humanity. “Terrorism continues to be the gravest threat to mankind, and it is critical for countries to be united against terrorism,” said DCM Dalela. He spoke of India’s initiative to pilot a draft of the convention on international terrorism with the objective of providing a comprehensive legal framework to combat terrorism. India is also a signatory to all the major conventions and protocols on terrorism adopted by the UN and is part of all global initiatives in that regard. Even after 13 years after this heinous terror attack the families of 166 victims from 15 countries across the globe still await closure, said DCM Dalela, reiterating the call upon the government of Pakistan to expeditiously bring the perpetrators of the horrific attack to justice. “This is not just the matter of Pakistan’s accountability to the families of the innocent victims, who fell to terrorists, but also international obligations. Both India and US have been victims of terrorism. Our two countries have a strong counter-terrorism partnership.”
In a joint statement issued by President Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Quad Summit in Washington DC in September 2021, both leaders “reaffirmed that the United States and India stand together in a shared fight against global terrorism” and “called for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to be brought to justice.”
Rabbi Levi Shemtov recalled when he heard there was a shooting near Chabad House in Mumbai, he was flying back from Miami at the time. When his flight landed he learned that the shooting was actually in the building. He called Rabbi Holtzberg at Chabad House, but the cellphone was answered by one of the terrorists. “We opened up a conference call line for several hours where I kept repeatedly calling this cellphone of the rabbi which we soon realized had been taken from him by one of the terrorists. And whenever we could get through we had certain instructions of what to ask and what to do from intelligence here and abroad,” said Rabbi Shemtov. He then called up Ronen Sen, the Indian Ambassador to the US at the time, to tell him what was going on, and he immediately put him in touch with people who were manning the situation. “They connected me to authorities in New Delhi who saw a very precious development because they could now listen in on this number, because this terrorist wasn’t talking to me the whole time he was actually talking to other people.” Rabbi Shemtov said that it was because they were monitoring that cellphone that they actually heard the commandant of LeT telling the terrorists to kill people with commands. He spoke of Rabbi and Rivka Holtzberg’s housekeeper Sandra who risked her life to save their son, baby Moshe. “I was thinking about what terrorism does,” said Rabbi Shemtov, “It jars our life, it disrupts our life, but it will not eliminate our spirit. The spirit of friendship between the Indian people and the American people, and between the Indian people and the Jewish people is strong and it’s unshakeable and determined.” Rabbi Shemtov concluded his remarks with the words that heard from Ambassador Ronen Sen who said, Rabbi, these terrorists didn’t attack Jews, they attacked Indians. They attacked all of us. Over a billion people are now in sorrow because of what these monsters did. “And then he said something I will never forget,” added Rabbi Shemtov, ” For 2000 years Jewish people have been living in India, never a problem with the Indian people. Able to practice their religion freely. And these people came and tried to shatter that. We will have to make it even stronger. And indeed we know the relationship between Indian and Israel, and the relationship between India and the Jewish people became stronger as a result. So sure the terrorists can disrupt our life, but they can never make us change our course of constantly pursuing decency until the entire world will know only peace and harmony like the Indian people and the Jewish people have known for thousands of years.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Jennifer Larson, spoke of the last four years in Mumbai where she was the Deputy Consul General. “I had the great privilege of visiting the sites we are talking about today and meeting some of the brave rescuers and survivors that 13 years ago were put to an extremely difficult test. I have spent many wonderful hours at Chabad house and I have heard this rabbi’s story a couple of times from the rabbi there, which is truly something to be thankful for. It is the spirit of thanksgiving here in the United States and I am grateful for the partnership and the opportunities that we have as the United States with India as a deep and cherished friend.”
The Mumbai Attacks transformed India’s perception towards national security, leading to enhanced maritime surveillance, inter-agency coordination, and information dissemination. Nine terrorists were killed by the security forces. Hemant Karkare (Former ATS Chief), Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Ashok Kamte (Addl Police Commissioner, Mumbai), senior Police Inspector Vijay Salaskar were among those killed in the attack. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist to be captured alive, was hung 4 years later on November 21, 2012.
The families of 166 victims – which included six American citizens – still await justice, while the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba masterminds of the attacks are safely under the protection of Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies.
Poonam is a veteran multi-media journalist and Editor of Global Strat View.