ONE by one, seven heavily armed men stuff themselves inside the Marksman vehicle. Camouflaged and bullet-proof with a roof fitted for a gunner, it resembles a small tank.
It’s the kind of scene you would expect in a war zone, but this vehicle is travelling down the streets of a nation at peace.
“Whether there is an attack or there isn’t, we are prepared for all, everything,” commanding officer Bashkar Udawar says as he rides shotgun through downtown Mumbai.
For police here, the war on terror at home is never far from their minds.
On November 26, 2008, India’s financial hub experienced one of the most well planned attacks that authorities had ever encountered. Mumbai had been hit before by the deadly train bombings of 2003. Then came what locals call “26/11”, India’s version of 9/11.
On that day, 10 men bent on terrorising a nation blazed their way through one of the most popular areas in Mumbai. In a coordinated assault, the men stormed a Jewish cultural centre and three five-star hotels, a popular restaurant and bar, and the city’s historic train station. Authorities were not prepared for an attack on this scale.
“We never thought there would be engagement of so many multiple targets at one point of time,” said Mumbai police Additional Commissioner Deven Bharti, who leads the team investigating the case.
More than 160 people were killed, including some of the city’s top police commanders. Nine of the terrorists were killed, leaving one alive. He was convicted and sentenced to death this month.
Today, Mumbai police say things have changed.
“I can assure you that we will be reacting in a much better way and in a much faster manner,” Bharti said.
The state has added a new terror task force called Force One — a dedicated group of 300 commandos armed to protect Mumbai.
India’s elite security team, the National Security Guard, now has a post in the city. Before, they were only based in the capital of New Delhi and had to be mobilised from there.
The city has also upgraded its “Quick” response teams. The teams of seven men have new guns, new gear and new vehicles. It is their job to get to the scene first.
In all, police say a force of 1 500 people are in the throes of being trained by ex-Israeli, Russian and Indian army commandos on a training ground in the city of Pune, outside of Mumbai.
In a metropolis bustling with more than 15 million people, police are aware that no matter what training and gear they have, it is hard to gather intelligence to prevent another attack.
While the focus is on the elite fighting teams, the vast majority of the roughly 43 000 police officers are not issued guns — only bamboo canes.
When asked if the entire force would get guns, Bharti said: “No, no there is no way. That will be a disaster.”
He said fighting terrorism required a highly skilled and dedicated team, and not everyone on the force was fit for the job.
“You know we are a civilian police. We have to handle so many civilian situations here. If you get a call from a fight, husband and wife, how do you react, react with a gun there?” he said. “We have all sat and decided that a force of about 1 500 will be totally dedicated to terrorist and terrorist attack and related activities.” — CNN.