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Insider whiff in Taj attack

Wednesday, 3 December 2008 - 3:32am IST

The circumstantial evidence is damning. The role of insiders in the terror attack at Taj Mahal Hotel cannot be ruled out completely.

Stringent security at the hotel had gradually slackened

HYDERABAD: The circumstantial evidence is damning. The role of insiders in the terror attack at Taj Mahal Hotel cannot be ruled out completely.

What else can explain how certain things just fell into place to accommodate the terrorists’ plan? And that is the question doing the rounds among the regular visitors of the hotel.

A few among the heritage hotel’s staff, who did not want to come on record for obvious reasons, said security at the hotel was stringent for the past two months. But it was gradually slackening. So much so, that on Wednesday, November 26, only one sniffer dog was present on the premises and one metal detector was in use.

Richard Saldanha, the executive director of US private equity giant Blackstone’s India unit, said his car was never allowed till the porch of the hotel. “We had to get down on the road and walk through all the metal detectors. The security levels were really high. I went there about four days before the incident. And all the barricades had been removed,” he said.

A regular at the Taj, where Blackstone had an office, Saldanha now stays at the Trident because it’s just across the Blackstone local headquarters at Express Towers in Nariman Point. He termed the removal of the barricades that have always been at the hotel “interesting”.

Blackstone India’s chairman Akhil Gupta is a regular at the Taj gym. And he too found it strange that the security had been downscaled. “I was angry with them for frisking me all the time. But they stopped frisking about six days before the incident,” he said.

Intelligence officials and anti-insurgency specialists feel there is more to the incident than what is visible. Especially, how the terrorists took positions inside the Taj, Trident and Nariman House, and continued retaliating at security forces.

“It is impossible for a group of terrorists to carry the ammunition required to fight for 40 hours in a backpack. They had surely set up a base inside the hotels,” said one official. Also, the terrorists or their allies could have been present inside the hotels during the attacks. And the manner in which the terrorists went about killing people and fighting security forces is unlike the LeT.

“To withstand the pressure from security forces and minding their business without bothering about hostages shows a different kind of training. There should be a reason for the terrorists to select Nariman House, where there were several Israelis,” the official said. “LeT modules usually trigger an explosion and vanish. These guys fought for almost 40 hours knowing that they would eventually be gunned down.”

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