Tue, Dec 16, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Hotel owners set up victims trust fund

HELPING HANDAs well as providing relief to people affected by the Mumbai terror attacks, the trust will help other victims of violence and natural disasters


The owners of Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel, which was stormed last month by Islamist militants, said they have set up a welfare trust to help victims of the devastating attacks.

Indian Hotels Co Ltd said the move followed the “outpouring of emotional support from well-wishers in India and across the globe, both for the restoration of the hotel and to offer relief to those affected by the attack.”

The Taj Public Service Welfare Trust aims to provide “immediate relief” to all victims of the attack and the families of those killed from all the sites targeted in the city.

“This trust will continue to discharge its mandate in the coming years, specifically covering relief to victims of sudden acts of violence, natural disasters and other tragic events that inflict damage to life and property,” the company added in a statement issued late on Sunday.

Meanwhile, security experts said the Mumbai gunmen not only overwhelmed security forces with their weaponry and willingness to die, but also with their sophisticated use of technology.

When the attackers arrived on the shores of Mumbai last month, they had studied satellite images of the city, were carrying handheld GPS sets and were communicating with their handlers via the Internet and satellite phone.

Many of the Indian police they encountered did not even have walkie-talkies.

“These [terrorists] are well aware of the technology available and also know that the police are several steps behind. And a lot of this technology is extremely easy to use and to learn,” said Pavan Duggal, a technology expert and New Delhi-based lawyer.

India’s underfunded and poorly trained police force is simply unable to compete, experts said.

“Crimes that involve technology usually make the police very nervous,” Duggal said.

To prepare for their Nov. 26 assault, militants examined the layout and landscape of the city using images from Google Earth, which provides satellite photos for much of the planet over the Internet, said Mumbai’s chief police investigator, Rakesh Maria.

The 10 gunmen also studied detailed photographs of their targets on laptop computers, Maria said.

When the assailants traveled by boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Mumbai — stealing an Indian trawler along the way — they used four GPS systems to navigate, Maria said. The sets could also be used as walkie-talkies.

The attackers were equipped with a satellite phone and nine cellphones. Throughout the attack, they called their handlers in Pakistan, who had eschewed conventional phones for voice-over-Internet telephone services, Maria said.

Those services route phone calls over the Internet, making it far harder to trace them. For example, a person might have a New York City telephone number, but calls made to that number are routed over the Internet, allowing a client to answer from anywhere there is online access.

Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a Pakistani accused of plotting the attacks, spoke from two Internet phone numbers to six different Indian mobile numbers, India’s Hindu newspaper reported. The Internet numbers were paid by wire transfer by someone using fake ID, the newspaper said.

By contrast, many Indian police do not even have walkie-talkies or cellphones to communicate with each other. The commando unit flown in from New Delhi to take on the attackers had neither night-vision goggles or thermal sensors, which would have allowed them to pinpoint the locations of attackers and hostages during the siege, security experts said.

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