Dubai: An Emirati businessman who was caught up in the Mumbai terror attacks, has recalled his experience ahead of the 11-year anniversary of the tragedy on Tuesday.
Over 300 were wounded and 174 killed when nine terrorists attacked landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and Trident Hotel, where Mahmoud Ali Redha was staying with his wife Mariam Mohammad Jassim, along with a cousin and a childhood friend.
All four were trapped inside their hotel for four days while the stand-off between police and terrorists ensued outside.
“It’s difficult to believe that 11 years have passed since 26/11, it seems like yesterday,” said Redha.
“For four days we were trapped in our room and we thought we would die.
“My wife and I had a beautiful room on the 20th floor where one entire wall was a glass window overlooking the Arabian Sea. My cousin Mohammad was on the 21st floor.
“I clearly recall that November 26 was a Wednesday night and we had been staying at the hotel for over ten days by then. Every night we would sit in the lobby and listen to the pianist and chat until about 10.30pm before leaving for our rooms.
“On that night my wife was restless and insisted we return to our rooms at 9.30 pm. I tried to reason with her as we were expecting a guest but she wouldn’t hear of it. So, I gave up and we called it a day.
“We must have been in our room barely 15 minutes when I heard a loud explosion at about 9.45pm.
“It seemed far away but I was restless as I could hear the noise of people in the corridor.
“I told my wife there was something wrong, then a few minutes later I heard another explosion. This time it was loud and there was no escaping the fact that a bomb had just exploded in our hotel. I later learnt that the bomb went off very close to where we were sitting in the lobby. My wife’s strong intuition saved us that night,” he added.
“We instinctively ran out into the corridor and heard an announcement on the hotel’s public address system that it was a terrorist attack and we must all return to our rooms and not open the door to anyone. The elevators were still working, so I asked my cousin to join us in our room.
“Once in our room we had nothing eat, just one apple between three of us and some water.
“The television and phones were working, so we watched the horror unfold on TV and were getting calls every few minutes from our families in the UAE. “We spent the whole night anxiously listening to gunfire. For a few hours we were frightened and nervous but the human mind quickly and we soon accepted the situation.
“We stayed awake every night and spent four days holed up in that room sharing one bathroom and tiny pieces of the same apple rationing it while having sips of water. Our habit of fasting during Ramadan helped us,” he added.
“We spent over 55-60 hours in that room. On day three, there was a fire, probably started by terrorists to smoke the guests out of their room, which came up to the 19th floor. We got a call from family telling us there was a fire below, but there was nothing we could do. The window was sealed and I thought to myself if the fire came up to our floor, I would have to shatter the glass and jump.
“On the same day, our phones went dead and the TV stopped working. That was scary as we had no idea what has happening. All we could hear downstairs was gunfire.
“On the Saturday morning everything fell silent and when the phone rang we were relieved. It was hotel security saying they would come up and escort us down. When we came down to the lobby we were stunned by the extent of the damage.
“The reception where we were greeted was eerily silent and I couldn’t imagine what fate had befallen those in the lobby.
“A huge wall to wall glass entrance was shattered and the piano was riddled with bullets, there was blood everywhere and signs of bodies having been dragged on the floor. Had we remained in the lobby we would have been blown to pieces.
“We were taken to the UAE Embassy and later in the afternoon we had lunch at Khyber restaurant before our flight.
“However our travails weren’t over. As soon as we took our seats, there was gunfire near the door. The restaurant locked the restauarant down and said terrorists were trying to get in. We were trapped there again for quite some time until the panic subsided. Somehow, we finished lunch and left for the airport.
“To this day, whenever I return to Mumbai I stay at the Trident Hotel. I believe that something similar cannot possibly happen twice. Of course there is a lot of anxiety when I reach the hotel, the unhappy memories come flooding back. I see the trees, the corridors, the sea and the those hours come to me in a flash. But I think it is therapeutic as I feel only confronting our fears can help us deal with it.”
- As told to Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Senior Reporter