BREAKING NEWS ON THE MUMBAI ATTACKS
By Joe Brancatelli
November 28, 2008 -- Sadly, business travelers are all too familiar with global terrorism. We're easy targets, out of place and out of time, and always seen by the bad guys as the fast track to international publicity.
The unfolding scenario in Mumbai, assaulted simultaneously in as many as a dozen locations on Wednesday evening local time, fits the pattern. Among the targets are the city's railway terminus, a restaurant popular with visitors to Mumbai and the city's two internationally famous hotels.
What appears below, starting with first details I E-mailed to you on Wednesday afternoon before the U.S. news sources began covering the tragedy, begins with the most recent entry. Read down to get a Pinter-like backward view of things.
FRIDAY, NOV. 28, 5PM EST: STILL LIVE ON THE NET
India's all-news, English-language television networks continue to stream live feeds on the Internet. The situation remains most critical at the Taj Mahal hotel, where an unknown number of terrorists are still embedded. Gunfire and explosions can still be heard and the government admits it hasn't secured the sprawling building. And as the death toll climbs past 160 and the situation moves into its third day, the networks are beginning to carry more strident and angry pieces. NDTV and IBN anchors are openly ridiculing the government and the main opposition party for their inability to make a public show of unity. They also note that the fractured, compartmentalized nature of India's law-enforcement agencies has hampered the response in Mumbai in specific and the nation's response to terrorism in general. Commentators are now pointing the finger of blame at Pakistan, which is a knee-jerk response since India and Pakistan always eye each other with deep-seated, almost pathological hostility. However, it is also clear that the attackers have roots in mostly Muslim areas of the subcontinent and have ties to Pakistan-based extremist organizations.
FRIDAY, NOV. 28, 1PM EST: WHY THE TAJ MATTERS
Wondering why Indian news sources are paying a disproportionate amount of attention to the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers hotel? Besides the obvious news story unfolding there, the hotel is a Mumbai landmark, the equivalent of the Empire State Building in New York or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It is aspirational: If you made it in India, you eventually found your way to the Taj Mahal Palace. Mumbaikers--the business elite, the Bollywood stars, international corporate bosses--all gravitated to the hotel. More practically, the hotel also houses some of the best restaurants and priciest shops in Mumbai, the financial and entertainment capital of India. Several important international firms also maintain their Mumbai offices there. And the Taj Mahal Palace is part of the foundation of the country's vast Tata empire, which accounts for a staggering 2.9 percent of Indian GDP. Tata is into everything--cars, steel, telecommunications, transportation--but its first great project was this hotel. Finally, the sea-facing Taj Mahal Palace is located across the street from the Gateway of India, the most important public landmark in Mumbai. The hotel's Web site, complete with gorgeous video, is here. I wrote a column for Portfolio.com last year on Raymond Bickson, the American who is leading the Taj group's international expansion in the hotel business.
FRIDAY, NOV. 28, 9AM EST: CONVENTIONAL 'WISDOM'
When the Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the U.S. Embassy in Yemen were attacked in September, I wrote a column for Portfolio.com about how to keep safe overseas when terrorists attack. The advice was solid, if conventional, wisdom gleaned from decades of dealing with terrorism. But it seems a little suspect now. As we learn more about how the terrorists moved through the Oberoi and Taj complexes, attacking guestrooms, shops, restaurants and other public areas, it is clear that hotels aren't necessarily a safety zone. A dining room in a major international hotel may be theoretically safer than a local restaurant on a public street, but it is also a target for terrorists intent on making a statement by attacking overseas visitors. And the developments in Mumbai this week will certainly force us to rethink how we protect ourselves on the road in the months and years to come.
FRIDAY, NOV. 28, 8AM EST: IT'S NOT OVER YET
Forty-eight hours into this tragedy, the death toll in Mumbai has surged past 150 and there still seems no end to the crisis. Military activity is still underway at both the Taj and Oberoi Trident hotels. Sadly, several dozen people were found dead in the Trident and there is at least one terrorist still loose in the Taj. One of Taj's signature restaurants is on fire, too. It's clear that the Indian government forces and Mumbai police do not have a handle on exactly how many terrorists have attacked the hotels and what their goals were. The situation is also exacerbated by the unconventional nature of the Taj complex, which includes two connected buildings and is located at the Gateway, one of the busiest areas in the developing world.
THURS., NOV. 27, 11PM EST: WIKIPEDIA ON THE CASE
A Wikipedia entry for the attacks in Mumbai has already been posted. It includes a good map of the attack locations and a chronology of events, at least as we currently know it. You can read the entry here.
THURS., NOV. 27, 9PM EST: BARNETT AT THE TAJ IN 2007
Chris Barnett was a guest at the Taj in Mumbai last year and wrote a wonderful column about much happier days at the hotel. It's a great read and worth revisiting. It helps you understand why business travelers love this iconic hotel. You can read the column here.
THURS., NOV. 27, 10AM EST: IT'S NOT OVER YET
Astonishingly, the terrorist attack on Mumbai is not over yet. It is clear now that at least 100 are dead and hundreds are wounded. And while the six or seven other sites where the terrorists attacked are now quiet, there is still action at the Taj hotel complex; the Oberoi-Trident hotel area; and Nariman House, a residence known to house many of Mumbai's Jewish residents. And as is often the case in situations like this, a lot of early "facts" are turning out not to be true. There is no real indication that the terrorists have been targeting British and U.S. citizens. Nor is there any proof that the terrorists are taking hostages at the hotels. At least not hostages in the sense of taking prisoners and negotiating for their release. It seems clear that most of the guests still trapped in the hotels have, by police request, locked themselves in their rooms for safety. Safety, of course, being relative just now.
THURS., NOV. 27, 1AM EST: HOTELS BY ANY OTHER NAMES
Regardless of whether you are watching the U.S. cable news networks, which are now in wall-to-wall coverage, or following the Internet streams from the two Indian broadcasters, you are getting confusing information about the hotels involved in this Mumbai tragedy. What is generically being called the Taj hotel is actually the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. It consists of two buildings: a so-called Heritage Wing that sports the iconic domes, cupolas and white ornamentation and a Tower Wing, which is tall, sleek and modern. Although the hotels have separate entrances, they are connected by a series of interior hallways. Three other Taj properties in the sprawling city of Mumbai--the President, Lands End and Wellington Mews--are not involved in this situation. Meanwhile, there is confusion over the Oberoi as well. The property you're seeing is actually the Trident Hotel, an Oberoi-owned property that is next door to the actual Oberoi hotel. It was, until quite recently, known as the Hilton Towers hotel. The Oberoi and the Trident building are not physically connected, although they are adjacent.
WED., NOV. 26, 9PM EST: A MATTER OF MUMBAI TIME
If you're following the horrific situation in Mumbai and are confused by the timing, you need to understand that the city is 10 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. I understand that the half-hour part is confusing. So if it is 9 p.m. on Wednesday in New York, it is 7:30 a.m. Thursday in Mumbai.
WED., NOV. 26, 3PM EST: LIVE MUMBAI NEWS ON THE NET
India's two leading all-news television broadcasting services are streaming their wall-to-wall coverage on the Internet. CNN IBN, the CNN affiliate in India, is available here. NDTV, which seems a little less frantic, is available here.
WED., NOV. 26, 2PM EST: MUMBAI UNDER ATTACK
The Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) is quite literally under terrorist attack. According to the IBN Network, the Indian affiliate of CNN, terrorists have attacked the city's two premier hotels, The Oberoi and The Taj, as well as the city's main train station (Victoria Terminus), a hospital, a movie theater, a popular restaurant and several other locations. At least 18 people are dead and live gun battles are apparently breaking out in various places throughout the sprawling city. It is past midnight in Mumbai, leading IBN reporters to suggest that this could be a very long night in the city. It is clear that these are coordinated attacks using weapons, explosives and other devices. This attack is centered in South Mumbai, the city's primary business district. Even IBN has been reluctant to speculate which groups may be responsible for such a widespread attack.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
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