Fareed Zakaria Tells Of The Mumbai Terror Attacks
SCOTT SIMON, host:
One hundred and seventy people were murdered a year ago when 10 terrorists set off a barrage of gunfire and grenades in Mumbai, India, at two hotels, a railroad station and a Jewish center. These harrowing hours are recounted in a new HBO documentary seen on November 19th called Terror in Mumbai. The film uses recorded cell phone conversations between some of the gunmen, while survivors of the attack painfully recall what they saw and heard.
(Soundbite of film, Terror in Mumbai)
Unidentified Man #1: We heard couple of people outside our room talking in a strange language.
Unidentified Woman #1: The next thing we heard was men dragging a lady out from the room next door. And she was shouting, she was shouting a lot. And then the next thing we heard, like, she was pushed again into the room and she was shot.
SIMON: The film is narrated by Fareed Zakaria, who of course hosts his own program on CNN and is editor of Newsweek International. He joins us now from CNN in New York. Fareed, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. FAREED ZAKARIA (CNN): A pleasure to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Youre a Mumbai guy, arent you?
Mr. ZAKARIA: I grew up in Mumbai. And the Taj Hotel, which is the site of the most spectacular attack, is a place that my mother actually works. And so the first thing I did when I heard about those calls was actually to call my mom.
SIMON: Who is okay, we should explain.
Mr. ZAKARIA: Yes, she was actually away out of town that day.
SIMON: Help us understand, inevitably it was referred to as Indias 9/11, but of course analogies are often imperfect. Help us understand what this event meant to Mumbai?
Mr. ZAKARIA: I think the most important sense in which its like 9/11 was the sense of something very different. The scale, the sweep, and the ability to paralyze the city for 60 hours, the fact that these were simultaneous attacks, that the gunmen clearly had a very carefully worked out plan all of that just created a kind of sense of helplessness and paralysis.
SIMON: Hearing the tape of the gunmens phone conversations is, of course, startling. This came about in kind of an unusual way, didnt it?
Mr. ZAKARIA: Its very unusual, actually, the first time we have ever heard the terrorists as theyre planning the attack, because of sheer chance and very good intelligence work by the Indians. The Indian intelligence had fed a number of phone cards to this group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, this Pakistani terrorist group. And when the attacks in Mumbai started, they they started to zero in on those phone cards to see if by some chance one of the terrorists was using them.
And they hit pay dirt. And as a result, they were able to listen in on the conversations while the controller in Pakistan is telling these 10 terrorists exactly what to do. And that to me was the most chilling aspect of this documentary. It just - it takes you inside the mind of the terrorists.
SIMON: And what do we learn about these people?
Mr. ZAKARIA: What struck me was that you have these people who in three months of training were turned from probably illiterate, certainly peasant boys in Pakistan, teenagers, maybe a little older, into entirely inhuman killers. They showed no remorse. They felt like they were doing a job. They were entirely desensitized to the fact that they were killing men, women, and children.
SIMON: I think its important for people to understand the raw terror and the basic human loss. Lets listen to another clip from the film, if we can.
(Soundbite of film, Terror in Mumbai)
Unidentified Woman #2: All of a sudden, they just shot those women three women.
Unidentified Man #2: And that young Singapore girl, she was crying so loud that she knew that they were being shot. It was terrible. I still hear her screams.
SIMON: The question is human, not tactical. How can human beings, of any background, be brought to commit crimes like that against innocent people?
Mr. ZAKARIA: To me thats the central question, you know, at a human level. Once they become part of the gang, loyalty to the gang and loyalty to its mores, it becomes pervasive. But then I think there is also this perverted ideology of jihad, which allows them to think theyre not doing anything bad, that theyre actually fulfilling some kind of religious mission, some kind of destiny for themselves, and that their otherwise meaningless lives have now taken on enormous import and meaning.
SIMON: Fareed, obviously we continue in the United States to deal with the effects of - investigation, obviously, into what happened at Fort Hood and just the anxieties of our time. And I want to try to be certainly scholarly, clinical, and detached, but I feel this documentary, what happened in Mumbai introduces a fair question. In the world today, are there number of religious extremists, who may happen to be Muslim, who are bent on suicidal violence because they believe theyll be rewarded for it?
Mr. ZAKARIA: I think the answer to your question is yes. And it is all the more incumbent, therefore, on religious authorities, of leaders within these communities of Islam, of Muslims, to really come out and unequivocally make the case that this stuff is not just bad, but deeply un-Islamic, pernicious, violates, you know - now, for the most part, people in the United States have done that. But it hasnt happened in, say, Pakistan, and until there is ambivalence on those issues, you wont have the kind of united front that will exorcise these demons.
SIMON: Fareed Zakaria of course hosts a program on CNN, an editor of Newsweek International. He is the narrator of Terror in Mumbai, that debuts November 19th on HBO. Fareed, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. ZAKARIA: Thank you for having me.