Inside the house of horror

EXCLUSIVE: Our man was one of the first civilians to gain access to the Chabad building — this is what he saw.

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 4, 2008

Not one wall in Nariman House had been left unscathed by the heavy firing. Shell-holes pockmarked every surface.

The top two floors of the Chabad House had been almost demolished by the explosive charges that the Indian commandos set off in the final assault that killed the two terrorists. They had held out for nearly 48 hours.

Around the building was chaos, as the Indian police failed to hold back hundreds of civilians in the heaving Culabar neighbourhood, watching and cheering the commandos on. I pressed ahead with a small team of Israeli security officers and rescue specialists, trying to get as close as possible to the action. We were made to wait in the alleyway just behind the house, simmering with frustration at our powerlessness to help.

“I kept on praying until the very last moment that we would still find someone alive,” said Colonel Yossi Turgeman, Israel’s military attaché to India.

Food still lies on the table in the Chabad House dining room

Food still lies on the table in the Chabad House dining room

“But the moment the Indians had decided that this was not a hostage situation, it was clear that this was going to be classic urban warfare, and the chances of anyone surviving were extremely slim.”
Night had fallen by the time the shooting stopped and for the next hour, explosions were heard from the building as bomb disposal teams neutralised explosive devices that the terrorists had strewn around the house.

Eventually, the Indian forces allowed us into the building, despite the concern over undiscovered grenades and the need to seal off the house.
We were taken through a courtyard in which the commandos were assembling, jubilant at the end of the operation that cost the life of one of their comrades. We half-ran into the building.

Climbing up the stairway that had almost collapsed, ducking under dangling live wires, I picked my way in.

The destruction on the second floor was less severe, but on the left side of the room used as a synagogue were puddles and smears of blood. Returning downstairs, I made towards the Torah ark to see if the holy scrolls had been disturbed. Then I remembered the warning against booby-traps.

Three men had been murdered here, and by the smell I could tell that two days had passed. Two of the bodies had already been dragged out by the Indian forces; one was still in the corner.

On the fourth floor, by the stairwell, lay the two dead terrorists. Their bodies were mutilated but their young, clean-shaven faces were visible.

In an inner room, on the beds, lay the bodies of three women, their hands and legs tied with phone cables.They had been shot in the head. We went from room to room as the team counted the bodies. Turgeman used his mobile phone to call Israel and give the final word: all hope was gone. Everyone was dead.

Last updated: 3:06pm, December 4 2008