MUMBAI (Reuters) - Days before militants struck Mumbai, authorities were warned of an imminent attack by Islamist gunmen who would arrive by sea, according to a senior coast guard source.
The owner of the city’s Taj Mahal hotel, at the centre of last week’s carnage, said he had also received a warning of a possible attack and had stepped up security.
Authorities say the militants who attacked Mumbai, killing more than 180 people, belonged to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (L-e-T) group, also blamed for an attack on India’s parliament in 2001.
“Yes, the coast guard and navy did have intelligence inputs that an L-e-T boat was to land in the creeks off the northwest Gujarat coast,” a top coast guard official told Reuters, referring to the western state which borders Pakistan.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, he said he had received a warning three days before the attacks. Gujarat is to the north of Maharashtra.
Intelligence sources told the NDTV news channel they had issued a series of warnings of a possible attack on Mumbai by sea in the months leading up to last week’s strike.
The latest, warning that the “sea wing” of Lashkar-e-Taiba was planning an attack, was issued on Nov. 18, just eight days before the militants struck, the TV channel said.
An earlier intelligence report warned that the Gateway of India monument and the Oberoi-Trident hotel were among the possible targets, NDTV said. The owner of the Taj Mahal hotel confirmed he had also been warned.
“It’s ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures too, you know, where people couldn’t park their cars in the portico where you had to go through a metal detector,” the Taj’s owner Ratan Tata told CNN.
“But if I look at what we had, which all of us complained about, it could not have stopped what took place. They didn’t come through that entrance. They came from somewhere in the back,” he said.
The militants appeared to have dodged the coast guard by hijacking an Indian fishing trawler, officials said.
India had suffered a series of bomb attacks on its cities even before the Mumbai attacks, and since 2004 has trailed only behind Iraq in terms of lives lost to attacks by militants.
Fishermen are sometimes seen as the eyes and ears of the coast guard in India.
The leader of Maharashtra’s leading fishermen’s union says he had also tipped off the government some four months ago about militants using sea routes to land RDX explosives in Mumbai with help from the city’s underworld.
“No one acted upon our information,” said Damodar Tandel, the president of Maharashtra fishermen’s committee.
Tandel said the information came to him from fishermen in neighbouring Gujarat.