Mumbai Attacker's Photo Haunts Commentator

A suspected terrorist is seen with a rifle outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station. i i

hide captionA suspected terrorist is seen with a rifle outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station in Mumbai, India, on Thursday.

Maharahstra Times-The Times of India/AP
A suspected terrorist is seen with a rifle outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station.

A suspected terrorist is seen with a rifle outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal railway station in Mumbai, India, on Thursday.

Maharahstra Times-The Times of India/AP

The attacks on five-star hotels in Mumbai, India's commercial capital, have commentator Sandip Roy thinking about the symbolism. He's been captivated by one photo of one of the alleged terrorists. He looks like any ordinary Indian, a young man in jeans and T-shirt, except he's holding an assault rifle.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We are in the third day of military operations in the streets of Mumbai, India's commercial capital. The attacks on five-star hotels there have gotten commentators Sandip Roy thinking about the hotel's symbolism, and he's been captivated by one picture.

Mr. SANDIP ROY (Commentator, India): It was a picture of one of the alleged terrorists, but he looked like any ordinary Indian. A young man in jeans and T-shirt, it was the uniform of young India. In fact, he looked so ordinary that even my roommate was confused. Is he one of the victims? he asked. Except the young man was holding a big gun. Little is known about the Deccan Mujahideen who claimed responsibility for horrific attacks, but the face of that gun-toting assailant haunts me.

Was it ideology or was it promise of cash that sent him into the five-star hotel, where Bombay's elite gather for cocktails and coffee?

If you ever need to pee in South Bombay, just go to the Taj, a Bombayite friend told me. They won't stop you; you look like you're English-speaking.

The assailants, even as they demanded American and British passports, apparently were not English-speaking. They spoke in Urdu and Hindi.

In a country where every car entering one of the grand new shopping malls has its trunk inspected by uniformed security, how did they know they could walk into the five-star hotel with guns and grenades? In the hushed glamour of the Taj, with its 24-hour coffee shops and golden luggage carts, did they walk in through the front door, past the liveried doormen, like they belonged?

Did they stride into the dining room of the five-star Oberoi, where diamond merchants make deals and Bollywood starlets wait to be spotted by gossip columnists, like they wanted a table, dinner for three, we have no reservations? This is where India's elite feels safe and cocooned. This is where they go to get away from the sweat and chaos of their city.

When I was in Mumbai earlier this year, my friend and I wiled away an afternoon at the Taj bookstore. Outside, the Arabian Sea was gray and glinting in the afternoon sun. Horse-drawn carriages paraded up and down the causeway. Hawkers and beggars rushed up to every foreigner with a camera. But inside the Taj it was as quiet as a limpid pool. The Leopold café around the corner is where my friends who visit the city hang out with a coffee and a cigarette. It's the best place to people-watch on a backpacker budget. Mumbai, the financial center of India, has been attacked before. This time it was Mumbai, the tourist destination. This time it was the playground of the beautiful people, Bali, it seems, has come to Bombay.

The post-mortem of the act, its political fallout, its connections to the war on terror, will surely come later. But the image of the young man in the T-shirt in five-star Mumbai haunts me. I don't know who he was. He might be an Islamic militant from Pakistan. He might be a frustrated, small, city boy shut out of the IT economy. He might be a village boy who trained in a terror camp somewhere. It doesn't really matter because his message was loud and clear. He said to booming India, pay attention to me.

INSKEEP: Commentator Sandip Roy is an editor with New American Media and host of New America Now on KALW in San Francisco. You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

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