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Security fears linger on one year after Mumbai attacks

As India remembers those fallen in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, security analysts and officials warn that, twelve months on, the country’s anti-terror strategy is still “work in progress”.


Nov. 26, 2008, etched a bullet mark on Rivesh Dandekar’s left arm and he lost a foot. One year on, the injuries are a constant reminder of the deadly attacks on India’s financial hub, Mumbai, which jostled the emerging Asian giant to its core.

Dandekar, a 35-year-old electrician, was waiting for a train late in the evening on a crammed platform in Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus central station, when he and scores of other Mumbaikars came under a volley of shots fired by two gunmen.

“I heard a loud crackling noise, suddenly there was screaming and pushing and then bodies were falling all around me,” recalls Dandekar.

Revisiting Mumbai

Hell broke loose as Mumbai experienced its very own 9/11, as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington are commonly called. Ten heavily-armed Muslim extremists held the city of dreams and glamour hostage for nearly three days. A bloody rampage across town including attacks on luxury hotels Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Oberoi Trident killed nearly 200 people, including six foreigners, and injured more than 300.

Twelve months later, Dandekar and Mumbai have bounced back, but fear of another 26/11 lingers on.

Alert yet vulnerable

The Congress-led government, caught off guard, faced a seething public reaction for the major security lapses that had allowed foreign extremists to plan and execute such a vast attack.

In a radical security overhaul soon after the attacks, Indian authorities set up the National Investigation Agency (NIA), an FBI-style unit to counter terrorism. Four regional hubs for the National Security Guard (NSG), the country’s top commando unit, were also established. 

Immigration and visa regulations were further tightened in October after Mumbai attack suspects were arrested in the US and Italy.

Use of metal detectors in hotels and malls is now widespread, while the country’s railway stations and airports are dotted with armed security guards behind heavy brown sandbags.

Coastal security has been beefed up, especially at Mumbai’s seaside port, which attackers used to enter the country undetected in 2008.

But for many, these steps are still not enough to avert another 26/11.

The acting head of Maharashtra state police, A.N. Roy, told reporters at a press conference last week: “Today, we feel much more confident than we were one year ago -- but still there is a long way to go.”

Analysts have stressed the need for even stronger preventive measures.

“ India needs to be more pro-active. Right now it is episodic and reactive due to a certain degree of politico-bureaucratic ineptitude,”  C. Uday Bhaskar, a security expert and former director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis told France

Bhaskar believes that terror attacks in the past ought to have resulted in much greater cohesion and determination to identify the systemic inadequacies and redress them – but this was not done.

In a Sunday editorial in the Indian news daily Hindustan Times, the paper’s editorial director and leading journalist, Vir Sanghvi, wrote: “It’s a depressing conclusion. But it is inescapable. Very little has really changed. A new terror attack like 26/11 can happen again. And our government may not be able to protect us."

Priyanka Babbar, a 26-year-old school teacher in Mumbai, thinks alike. "I will not be surprised if something similar happens at a train station or anywhere else,” she told FRANCE 24. “But I still go out and use public transport, because life goes on.”

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