Peering into the dark hallway, the two commandos of the National Security Guards saw a silhouetted figure walking towards them. He looked like one of them, but he soon opened up with his Kalashnikov.
“Hey, it’s us,” shouted an NSG commando, “It’s us.”
The silhouette let go of another burst.
The Black Cats, as NSG commandos are also called, retaliated. One of the two buddies - they always work in pairs - who had taken position at the entrance swung around his Kalashnikov and shot the terrorist in the legs.
He collapsed to the ground, but quickly dragged himself away.
That was the first firefight with the terrorists who had taken over the Trident-Oberoi hotel Wednesday night, details of which were exclusively shared with Hindustan Times.
A group of 50 Black Cats had made it to the top of the 21-floor hotel around noon on Thursday. Operational details such as how they managed it — airdropped or scaled up —were not disclosed.
“The commandos saw six bodies on the 21st floor,” said a source close to the Trident operation. They had walked straight into a situation. They started climbing down, painstakingly securing every room on every floor.
The 20th was safe, so was the 19th. Then, they reached the 18th.
There were two terrorists holed up in a room. They knew the commandos had arrived. Their room, however, caught fire soon because of a hand grenade tossed in their direction by the Black Cats.
One of the two terrorists caught the full force of the grenade and died. The other one tried to slip out, to escape the fire, but he walked into the commandos.
"The commandos thought he was one of them," said the source, adding, "he looked dressed in similar combat fatigues. Or so it seemed to them in the dark." He then started shooting.
Shot in the legs, the man crawled behind something that couldn't be seen very clearly in the dark. But he wasn't shooting back any more.
He was trying, instead, to rile the Black Cats into making a mistake. Abusing them in Hindi, the terrorist shouted, "Dam hai to samne aakar maro (if you have the guts come out and kill me).
A commando shouted back: "Coward, you have been hiding like a rat all this while. Why don't you show some courage and step out."
Neither took the bait.
The commandos decided to wait until the first light. But they kept firing short bursts in that direction to make sure the terrorist stayed down, if alive.
When day broke, the structure behind which the terrorist had taken cover became visible. The Black Cats shot it up. And kept shooting till they were sure no one could survive that kind assault.
The terrorist didn't survive it.
The raiders quickly secured the floor and declared it sanitized. And then began moving down the building, securing the remaining floors.
They were not to encounter any more terrorists, but they didn't know then. Securing every room and then the floor was a painfully slow process.
The guests had locked themselves inside their rooms and refused to open even when told it were the commandos. "Every time a room wouldn't open, we would suspect there were terrorists inside."
"We were following one simple rule: there could be a terrorist in every room. But we knew there were guests in most rooms. It was Russian Roulette of sorts," said a commando who took part in the operation.
Breaking into a room followed simple procedures: the locks were opened with a master key, adequate warnings were given and then the storming. "The intention was minimize collateral damage."
They managed zero collateral damage. At the end of the 30-hour operation, the Black Cats had freed over 160 hostages, among them four Israelis and other foreign tourists.
The commandos walked out of the building Saturday evening to thunderous applause from a crowd of onlookers. But they didn't stop to enjoy the moment. It was just one more job done, and done well.