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Amid Shock Over Attacks, Mumbai Residents Question City’s Security

December 1, 2008 at 6:35 PM EST
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Mumbai residents returned to work Monday for the first time since last week's terrorist attacks. But Indians remained shocked and angry at the newly-evident holes in the city's security. Simon Marks reports from Mumbai on the aftermath of the attacks.
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SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent: The people of Mumbai returned to work this morning in their millions. By all accounts, it was a normal rush hour at the city’s main railroad station, which was teeming with passengers hanging off the trains that bring them to the city each morning from its sprawling suburbs.

This was the first real rush hour since last week’s coordinated attacks. And this very station was one of the terrorists’ first targets.

More than 50 commuters, police officers and railroad workers were murdered here in an indiscriminate rampage, the first stage of a terrorist siege of the city that would last for 60 hours.

Commuters this morning were displaying what’s known as the spirit of Mumbai, a resilience that is one of the city’s hallmarks.

OLVIN KOMMIS: This is like a big shock to the people. And they just want to show everybody that, you know, Mumbai, come what may, will fight back and they’ll do what it takes to be normal.

SIMON MARKS: Yet, while many here take pride in the city’s ability to emulate New York and London and pick itself up, dust itself down, and go back to work, there is still a sense of disbelief in the air over the events of last week.

All day long, crowds of people gathered at the two hotels that were besieged by the terrorists. Some simply wanted to take a look. Others took pictures on their cell phones that they sent to friends. And many of them expressed anger toward the ruling authorities here, both the national and local governments that they accuse of failing to protect Mumbai and its people.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: I think what we desperately lack is good leaders.

Flaws in security, governance

Jaya Prasad
I completely live in fear. I think that it can be even worse than this, because we are so, so, so, so not taken care of. There is no security whatsoever.

SIMON MARKS: The Prasads came to the Taj to pay their respects to the dead. They planned to have dinner at the hotel last Wednesday night but changed their minds at the last minute. Now they want the country's leaders to lead.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: I think people are sad about this. People really want now some action. Clearly, as somebody said on the television channel yesterday, if any politician was to even try and come to any of these areas, I think they would all got lynched.

JAYA PRASAD: I completely live in fear. I think that it can be even worse than this, because we are so, so, so, so not taken care of. There is no security whatsoever. I mean, security is cut. It lasts for two days. Third day, it's all gone, finished, over and done with.

SIMON MARKS: There is evidence of an increased police presence on the city's streets at the moment, and many of the international hotels unscathed by last week's violence are fortresses today.

But there is also a continuing acknowledgment that the terrorists who came ashore by boat just yards from some of the city's most prominent landmarks could launch a coordinated, well-planned attack with remarkable ease.

People here now know that the coast guard lacks state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and speedboats, that the country's elite commandos were delayed arriving in Mumbai because no plane was available to fly them in, and that security at the Taj Hotel, beefed up after a credible threat was made against it in September, was relaxed just two days before the terrorist strike.

The claims that more could have been done to save lives are dominating non-stop media coverage here. And last night, one of the country's cable news stations aired a special broadcast called "Enough is Enough: India's 9/11."

A survivor of the attacks broke down in tears telling his story, and the panel of prominent Mumbai residents vented their anger.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: We have not been done in by terrorists. We have been done in by incompetent politicians.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: Absolutely.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: We have been done in. We have been done in by politicians who are blaming each other.

A 'tide of anger' in India

Bharka Dutt
News Anchor, NDTV
We are so angry. I have never seen this kind of inflammable anger in India.

BHARKA DUTT, News Anchor, NDTV: We are so angry. I have never seen this kind of inflammable anger in India.

SIMON MARKS: Bharka Dutt anchored last night's broadcast and today was reporting from outside the Taj Hotel. She says Indians have a long list of questions for their leaders.

BHARKA DUTT: We want to know if there was specific intelligence warnings about such an attack, why did you not respond? We want to know why NSG commandos, who are very much the new heroes for this country, took 10 hours to come here because they didn't have a dedicated plane to fly them in. I mean, it is startling.

We want to know why you guys can't even put up a unified front. The opposition and the ruling government's still bickering. We want to know why you politicize terror. I think that's what ordinary people are saying today.

SIMON MARKS: The Indian government says there is growing evidence to blame Pakistan for the terrorist strike. The one militant captured alive is a Pakistani citizen who has reportedly told police that he and his colleagues received their instructions from inside the country. Pakistan denies it.

An FBI team arrives in Mumbai today to probe the attacks amid reports that U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Islamist extremist groups are using Pakistani soil as a base for their battle against India's rule in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

But among the people of Mumbai today, we found little interest in the geopolitical blame game. They were too busy pointing the finger of blame at India's politicians.

The tide of public anger has already claimed three political scalps. Last night, the country's home affairs minister resigned from the government. Today, two prominent local officials, the chief minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located, proffered their resignations.

And while politicians are paying a price, business leaders here in India's rapidly growing financial capital fear the country's economy will, as well.

The Mumbai stock exchange lost two percent of its value today. And, thanks to the global economic slowdown, it had already last more than half its value this year.

Sadness in Mumbai

Deepak Parekh
Chairman, Housing Dev. Finance Corp.
[The attack] shatters the confidence of the citizens. It shatters -- it creates fear amongst the minds of our foreign friends who come here in large numbers, our foreign partners who come here on a regular basis.

DEEPAK PAREKH, Chairman, Housing Development Finance Corporation: You know, there is a big economic loss. Such an event will have a huge economic loss.

SIMON MARKS: Deepak Parekh runs HDFC, the country's largest mortgage provider. He says the terrorists struck at the very heart of the new Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay, the jewel in the country's financial crown.

DEEPAK PAREKH: It shatters the confidence of the citizens. It shatters -- it creates fear amongst the minds of our foreign friends who come here in large numbers, our foreign partners who come here on a regular basis.

These are the hotels that we keep them, they stay in Bombay. These are two landmarks of the city of Bombay.

SIMON MARKS: In one corner of the city today, there was enormous sadness. Mumbai's largest synagogue held a memorial service for those who died when the terrorists besieged a Jewish community center here.

The dead included the parents of 2-year-old Moishe Holtzberg, the baby plucked to safety by a community center worker midway through the siege. His grandparents flew to Mumbai from Jerusalem and are taking the child back there aboard an Israeli air force plane tonight.

But elsewhere, there were signs of recovery. At Zenzi, a popular Mumbai night spot, business is once again brisk. People are out eating, drinking, spending money, and insisting that terror won't stop the city in its tracks.

MUMBAI CITIZEN: They want to get us scared. They want us to be scared in our house, you know, but this is our country. And I should have the right to walk down the street if I want to. And they can come with their guns or whatever they like, but they're not going to stop us.

SIMON MARKS: Mumbai's ongoing problem and a source of growing frustration here is that, as things stand, there is nothing to stop a further terrorist assault similar to last week's from happening again.