Thinking of bombs from Islamabad to Mumbai
By Simon Cameron-Moore
Anyone who lives in Islamabad will recall the moment they heard the explosion of a suicide truck bomb that killed 55 people at the Marriott Hotel on a Saturday night in September.
Sitting in their homes, watching television, having supper, putting their children to sleep, they were physically hit by the shockwave.
The cause was unmistakable. The sight of flames leaping from the windows of a place where we had all dined, met contacts, and attended conferences was chilling.
A month later, I left a depressed Islamabad for a week’s leave. Many of the foreigners and their families had left the Pakistani capital for good. I just went to India for a break to
see colleagues and old friends I first met in the late 1990s during an earlier assignment.
Living in a city spooked by security scares and covering bomb blast after bomb blast inevitably results in a certain morbidity.
As I visited old haunts in Delhi and Mumbai, the
vulnerability of India’s beautiful hotels was all too obvious.
I told my friends that I feared it would only be a matter of time before the five star hotels were targeted.
The militants had hitherto mostly sought to create panic and mayhem by attacking the general population as they shopped at bazaars or travelled on public transport.
India’s luxury hotels are centres of excellence, they are masters of hospitality, full of grace and style. They are where elites and foreign businessmen and wealthy tourists go.
Security at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai had tightened when I visited in early November.
The side and back entrances, which journalists often use, were closed, and the only way in was via the main front entrance.
I passed by the elegant, colonnaded swimming pool, and thought how easy it would be for someone to toss a grenade over the wall from the street behind. as they did at Islamabad’s
Luna Caprese restaurant in March.
A few years ago there was an explosion at a taxi rank opposite the Taj, where the road curls round by the Gateway of India. After that, I think taxis were barred from dropping passengers on the covered concourse apron at the foot of the steps to the lobby.
Since then the hotel management took a further step, introducing a security check at the entrance to the concourse from the road that visitors on foot would pass through.
It seemed rather thin protection for someone used to hotels in Pakistan. I walked past the Taj and the Oberoi on Nariman Point, and I thought of the truck bomb filled with explosives,
spiked with aluminium powder that created the inferno at the Marriott.
The results were devastating even though the truck never made it past the entrance from the road thanks to a retractable steel barrier that rises out of the ground to stop vehicles entering freely before being checked.
And then I thought how the security industy’s infrastructure would
change the landscape of India’s porous cities when their enemies shifted targets.