Priya Ramakrishnan and Mahafreed Irani
On Saturday, as dawn broke and the suns rays lighted up the Taj, a flock of pigeons flew around the dome as though to herald the return of safety and serenity. The three-day-long siege at Taj Hotel finally ended as the National Security Guards (NSG) gunned down the remaining three terrorists on Saturday morning bringing a halt to the continuous fire exchanges.
Just when the operation looked like it would never end and the silence of the dark night had taken over, at 3.23am, more than two explosions were heard from the first floor of the Taj Heritage wing. The air was filled with gun smoke and sounds from Rocket Propelled Grenades, AK47s and single-bullet shots, as the operation intensified. Extra help from the army, NSG and RAF was rushed in as eight BEST buses transported officers upto the entrance of the Taj Heritage building. As several Mumbaikars watched live visuals from outside the building, many wondered how the perpetrators managed to stay awake and vigilant for more than 60 hours. The operation then took focus when the area of the first floor of the building, which was directly facing the media was attacked with several grenades. All that was visible was a dark room with curtains that swayed suspiciously. A sniper waiting on the snorkel of the fire brigade had his target at the window, ready to shoot. In another room, NSG guards were using flash-light signalling, avoiding the use of verbal communication. But the 105-year-old stone heritage structure took a beating, after continuous grenade explosions injured its double-reinforced glass body. Just like those who had suffered inside, the building also started showing signs of the punishment it had been put through.
As the firing intensified, a solitary gunman who was eluding the NSGs by shifting base rapidly between the first and ground floors was killed by the commandos while he was trying to hurl a grenade.
At 7.20am dark soot oozed out of the first-floor crystal ballroom. It was the place where once sounds of music and aromas of rich food had drifted out, making people turn their heads in wonder. Today their heads were turned towards the same portal, only to observe the soot of burning death. This was the beginning of the end. The rains poured down and inside the fire continued to spread engulfing three floors. Black fumes engulfed India’s national heritage treasure. It was 8.30am and as the fire spread, and when one of the four terrorists tried to escape from the smoke-filled room, jumping from the window. The sniper was quick to shoot him. He fell to his death immediately after. As the stone structure of the hotel remained intact, the fire destroyed everything within it. The heritage structure had been robbed of its grandeur. After the NSG signaled the fire brigade, they rushed with their snorkels and took over the fire.
Briefing reporters outside, Director General of NSG JK Dutt said that all the four terrorists inside the Taj Heritage had been terminated. 60 hours of terror had finally ended as the combing operations continued.