Monday, December 2, 2013

The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel

The Siege:  68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel
by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
Penguin, 2013.  318 pgs. Nonfiction

On November 26, 2008, a group of young men, Pakistani Islamist extremists, mounted a series of attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, particularly targeting the Taj Hotel. Moving from room to room they gunned down everyone they saw including members of wedding parties and the wife and young children of the hotel's general manager, who lost his home and all his family in one ghastly swoop. Then they set the building on fire. Americans know quite a lot about the events of 9/11; not so much about horrific attacks in the rest of the world. The Siege . . . is a gripping corrective to that gap in our knowledge, a real-life thriller that in the end, breaks one's heart. The heroism of the hotel staff in sacrificing themselves to save their guests stand in stark contrast to the dithering of Mumbai's police commissioner who held his forces back until he could fully assess the situation and then kept trained commandos in desk jobs while most everyone else stood and watched. Four officers were near enough the scene to enter the hotel; woefully outmanned and outgunned, they still found ways to save lives and to strike back at the terrorists. The terrorists themselves were young men sent into "battle" by much older handlers who encouraged them to kill as many people as possible before dying the glorious death of martyrs. The terrorists had the advantage of even the Black Cat commando group which finally arrived because a Pakistani-American, David Headley, had thoroughly scouted the labyrinthine Taj months before the attacks.  A double-agent, Headley was employed by the CIA, but was actually working for the Pakistani Kashkar terrorist group. The Siege . . . is an important story, essential reading, delivered in extraordinary scope and depth by Scott-Clark and Levy in an impressively articulate style.


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