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The exact moment when Ajmal Kasab was caught at Marine Drive

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A lone Skoda car sped up through the Marine Drive at 12:40 am on 27 November, 2008. A Mumbai Police sub-inspector stepped forward and whistled.

Thursday, 27 November 2008, 12.40 a.m. – Marine Drive

The normal soundtrack to the city was the growling congestion that turned a thirteen-mile dash from Apollo Bunder to Andheri (and the airport) into a sclerotic, two-hour crawl. However, on this cool, dry, post-monsoon evening, the police and army had locked down all the main thoroughfares, resulting in the kind of profound silence that had not been heard for half a century.

Behind the Taj, in Back Bay, a lone silver Škoda sped up a deserted Marine Drive in the halogen glow, passing the Trident–Oberoi, also under siege, and following the Queen’s Necklace, the board-walk of lights, north. ‘Škoda car, Škoda car MH- 02 JP1276, silver colour, hijacked by terrorists,’ an officer radioed, the alert reaching a roadblock opposite the Ideal Café, in Chowpatty, the last major junction before the road wound up into Malabar Hill.

Police cocked their weapons as the car appeared, juddering to a halt in front of them. A sub-inspector stepped forward, facing the dazzling headlights, blowing his whistle. The driver turned on his wipers, spraying the windscreen to obscure the view.

‘Switch off the lights, raise your hands and step out.’ The car engine revved and the car lurched towards him. At the last minute it swung round, getting stuck on a road divider. Two officers ran to Ajmal’s side, while someone shot out the rear window. Ismail told Ajmal to raise his hands and then

pulled out a pistol and fired at the advancing police. They returned fire and, to Ajmal’s horror, Ismail slumped, shot in the neck.

Ajmal cautiously opened his door. He appeared to stumble before hauling out an assault rifle from between his legs. A policeman grabbed the barrel, pulling and tugging. Ajmal got his finger to the trigger and let off a long burst into the officer’s stomach. The policeman lurched back but held on, even as he was dying, the skin of his hands fused to the burning AK.

A mob of khaki uniforms turned on blood-spattered Ajmal, kicking, stripping, slapping and beating him, bystanders joining in, too, until someone cried out: ‘Stop, stop, we need him alive.’ He was pushed into an ambulance, lying on the metal floor, his hands tied together with a handkerchief,

Ismail’s corpse jiggling beside him. Ajmal’s brand-new tennis shoes were left behind in the road.

Calls about the shooting of three legendary police officers in Rang Bhavan Lane were piling up, but the only person to reach the scene was Karkare’s wireless operator, who radioed in the catastrophe at 00.47: ‘Karkare Sir, East Region Sir [Kamte] and PI Salaskar Sir are injured. We are taking them to the hospital.’

In the Control Room, the tragedy was instantly displaced by other news. Two gunmen had been shot in Chowpatty. ‘Where are the bodies?’ Maria demanded, calling Chowpatty’s Assistant Commissioner. ‘One is killed, but one is alive,’ the officer revealed. Maria was stunned. This was a huge result.

Was the tide turning? He called for his staff car, readying to interrogate the prisoner. But before he got out of the door, Commissioner Gafoor rang, telling him to stay put. This was Chowpatty’s jurisdiction and its Additional Commissioner would be in charge. Maria was incandescent. The city was burning, and the Taj besieged. The force needed a scalpel to fillet information from the captured gunmen. The Additional Commissioner, who had inched his way up over twenty-five years, was, with all respect, more slow moving. But Gafoor, who was under intense pressure, was insistent and unyielding. This was Chowpatty’s show.

Maria bit his lip and quietly dispatched a trusted Crime Branch inspector to shadow the Additional Commissioner and make sure he did not screw it up. There were five questions he needed answering at this critical juncture: how many terrorists were there, who sent them, how had they entered the city, what was their aim and where was the location of their control? ‘Open the prisoner’s mouth and check for cyanide,’ he shouted after his man.

At 00.56, Gafoor came back on the line. Where were Kamte and Karkare? Maria choked. ‘. . . Sir, Ashok [Kamte] is near the SB office, sir. He is covering the SB office, sir.’ But Kamte was not there. He had been down the road, in Rang Bhavan Lane, the victim of a deadly shooting, an incident that had been called in by many eyewitnesses and police patrols from shortly after midnight. What about the ATS chief, Hemant Karkare? ‘Sir . . . Sir, he . . . he . . . he . . . Hemant was . . . sir, at the CST railway station. I will find out the location and tell him to get in touch with you right away, sir.’ The Control Room log showed that the ATS chief had called in his decision to leave CST for Cama

Hospital at 23.24, more than an hour and a half earlier. The Commissioner pressed on, unsure of what he was being told: ‘I only want to know whether Mr Karkare and Kamte are injured or are they safe?’

Maria, normally unflappable, replied: ‘Sir, trying to do that, sir. Sir, as for the report . . . that there was firing on East Region [Kamte] vehicle, nobody is injured. As soon as I get through I will get back to you.’ There was no mention of the bullet-riddled Qualis in which all three officers had been gunned down. ‘You will send a party . . . ?’ the Commissioner asked. ‘Already done, sir . . . Already done, sir. Additional CP Crime and there are three units of

Crime Branch on the job, sir,’ Maria said, signing off.

Nine minutes earlier, Karkare’s radio operator had called Control to confirm that the fallen officers were in transit to GT Hospital, where all of them were declared dead.

This is an excerpt from Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark’s book The Siege: The Attack on the Taj published by Penguin.

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