The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
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MUMBAI MASSACRE. Mumbai Massacre, timed to commemorate the first anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, uses personal stories of survivors to retrace the devastating event. The documentary reveals how consumer communication devices such as cell phones and BlackBerrys became tools of both survival and death. Pictured is the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the terrorist targets.
From The Asian Reporter, V19, #45 (November 17, 2009), page 11.
Mumbai Massacre commemorates one-year anniversary of terrorist attacks
Directed by Victoria Pitt
Produced by Andrew Ogilvie, Jared Lipworth, and Phil Craig
Distributed by Thirteen, Electric Pictures, and Furnace
By Allison Voigts
Seyfi and Meltem Müezzinoglu were halfway through their dinner at the five-star Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, India when the terrorists arrived. During the course of the evening they would survive two group executions and emerge, shell-shocked, from the hotel 60 hours later, their clothing splattered with the blood of fellow hostages.
The Turkish couple’s account of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai last November is among the most gut-wrenching in the Public Broadcasting Service episode of Secrets of the Dead marking the first anniversary of the attacks, precisely because they were among the only hostages who survived to tell it.
The documentary, which airs November 25, pieces together the horrific event using interviews with survivors, video from hotel security cameras, and cell phone conversations between the terrorists recorded by Indian intelligence agencies.
"Kill them. Keep your phone switched on so we can hear the gunfire," says the emotionless voice of a remote terrorist commander to one of the gunmen concerning three women — two Indian and one Singaporean — being held in a room with the Müezzinoglus. Seconds later the shots are fired.
But while these tales reveal the horror of the evening — during which 172 people were killed at cafés, a train station, a Jewish center, and two of the city’s most famous five-star hotels — they also reveal unique details about the changing methods of terrorists in today’s technologically advanced world.
The gunmen themselves were teenagers when they were recruited from poor Muslim villages and trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organization in Pakistan. The Müezzinoglus, who were spared because they are Muslims, describe their captors’ bewilderment at seeing a faucet for the first time in one of the hotel bathrooms.
Despite their naiveté, the young men were equipped with up-to-the-minute information on their targets’ whereabouts as their leaders back in Pakistan watched breaking news of the attack unfold on satellite television. As news cameras panned over the scene and zoomed in on hostages hiding in their hotel rooms, the terrorists ingeniously used this information to track them. And after one of 200 guests in a hidden ballroom at the Taj Mahal Hotel gave a phone interview to local media, the terrorists quickly descended on them.
The attackers weren’t the only ones to use technology to their advantage. Guests trapped in the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels logged on to their iPhones, BlackBerrys, and other handheld devices to communicate with the authorities and even ask friends and family for help. An American cameraman trapped in the Taj Mahal Hotel received a text from his mother in Texas containing a floor plan she had pulled from the hotel’s website.
Similar to the image of the "Falling Man" captured during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this hour-long reflection on the killings may seem grotesque to some viewers. Perhaps for that reason, the show’s directors end with emphasis on the roughly 1,000 people who escaped the Mumbai attacks, half of them from the hotels. Many potential victims fled the hotels aided by staff who put their own lives in danger, including a restaurant manager who returned to help others escape and a cook who died protecting guests in the Taj Mahal Hotel’s ballroom.
Those who made it out were shocked to meet a wall of journalists just outside the doors of the hotels, capturing what The New York Times later called the most well-documented terrorist attack anywhere.
Seyfi Müezzinoglu says of his grim face in the photograph a reporter captured, "I’ve learned to accept that people have died, and that we have lived, and it’s not a happy picture."
Secrets of the Dead’s Mumbai Massacre airs Wednesday, November 25 from 8:00 to 9:00pm on Oregon Public Broadcasting. Repeats of the show air November 27 from 1:00 to 2:00am and November 29 from 11:00am to noon. For more information, call (503) 293-1982, or visit <www.opb.org> or <www.pbs.org/secrets>.