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26/11 victim: What could the Taj have done differently?

world Updated: Dec 22, 2013 16:29 IST
2008 Mumbai attacks

Roger Hunt, a British survivor of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, today said he understood the reasons behind another survivor, Will Pike, seeking damages from the Taj Hotel, but wondered what could have been done differently when an attack of such a scale would have challenged even the military forces.

Pike, 33, this week won the right to have his case seeking damages from the Taj Hotel heard in a British court on the ground that taking the case through Indian courts would in all probability take up to 20 years.

Hunt, 47, who was then a senior employee of the Royal Bank of Scotland, was on his second visit to Mumbai in November 2008 to set up a new operation there, but was caught up in the massacre in the Oberoi hotel, and was one of the last to escape after being rescued by Indian commandos, suffering only minor bruises and smoke inhalation.

Hunt told HT: “The key question is how do you protect yourself, or others, against attacks of the kind in Mumbai, which was a very well planned and coordinated attack impacting on multiple sites simultaneously. This was not a lone gunman attacking people. It is difficult to understand what the hotels or anyone could have done differently even if they had prior intelligence.”

He added: “An attack of this kind will challenge the might of even the military. The challenge for governments is how you build strong and effective intelligence networks that intercept and where it cannot be detected in advance, how to respond to attacks such as the ones in Mumbai or Kenya”.

Hunt, who wrote a book on his Mumbai experience, titled ‘Be Silent or Be Killed’, said it was a difficult and delicate question to address. “Sadly, so many people lost their lives and many were left mentally and physically sacarred for life. It should also be remembered that the Taj Hotel itself lost staff and suffered the same atrocities as the guests", he said.

According to Hunt, the key question is if there were intelligence prior to the attacks, how would it have been shared and in full knowledge of this would any individual or organisation have still chosen to go there: "Would they have changed their mind? With hindsight I am not sure what could feasibly have been done if such specific prior intelligence had been available”.

On the high court’s ruling allowing Pike to move his case in a British court, Hunt said he understood an individual's preference for UK, given the timelines for legal cases in India. He felt it was not his place to comment on the actions of other individuals impacted by the 2008 attacks, however, he said it should also be recognised that as a result of the atrocities many others have had their lives destroyed.

Hunt said: “I consider myself extremely fortunate not only to have survived and returned home with the minimum of injury, but also that in the years since the attacks I have been able to rebuild my life and move forward, accepting that this has not been possible for so many others."

Hunt, who is now the Operations Director at a Scottish airport, said: “What is certain is that regardless of the acts of terrorism that are committed against the people of India they consistently show that they have the heart and the resolve to stand strong in the face of adversity, and you have to admire their strength in unity".

On that fateful day in Mumbai, Hunt had just finished dinner at the Oberoi when a waitress tried tempting him with the desserts on offer. But he decided against another course. It was the first of a series of decisions that would save his life, as the restaurant was strafed with machine-gun fire just a few minutes later.

Hunt described the events in considerable detail in the book that includes several email exchanges with his family, friends and work colleagues through his Blackberry.

He said: “I was fortunate to survive one of the most audacious terrorist attacks in recent times. My experience in India was all very humbling and has had a profound impact on my life. I now understand that there are so many parallel lives beyond my existence in Scotland”.

Hunt added: “I have not a single bad feeling about the people of India and their fabulous country. Previously I would have been nervous about returning, however, having survived the attacks it is important that you do not allow the acts of terrorism control how you live your life going forward. There is no doubt that Indians, and Mumbai in particular, truly suffered because of the attacks”.