24th September 2002 is remembered as one of the worst terrorist strikes in India, which resulted in more than 30 people dying and more than 80 people injured, in an attack on the Akshardham temple in Gujarat.
The Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, is a centre for enlightenment and education about Hindu culture. Built by the contributions of thousands of volunteers and dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan the Akshardham temple is a beautifully carved stone structure located in sprawling lawns spread over 23 acres in Gandhinagar, the capital of the western Indian state of Gujarat. The architectural beauty and universal message of prayer and peace that this temple radiates attracts thousands of visitors everyday.
On 24th September 2000, when visitors were thronging the temple, two terrorists arrived at Gate 3 of the complex in a white car at 4.45 pm local time. As they tried to enter the gate they were halted by the temple volunteers who attempted to carry out a security check. However the attackers evaded them, climbed over the fence and entered the complex, whereupon they opened fire along the walkway leading up the main temple building. The first casualities were a temple volunteer and a female visitor. There were about 600 visitors present in the temple complex at the time of the attack, including 50 devotees within the temple building.
As the sound of grenades and gunshots echoed through the complex and pilgrims started to flee, the volunteers in the grounds contacted the volunteers within the temple and asked them to shut the entrances. Showing exemplary courage the volunteers closed the entrance doors and ensured that the people within the temple were not harmed by the attackers. Police and commando units were also contacted to effect a rescue. Meanwhile the attackers found their route to the temple building blocked, and headed to Exhibition Hall 1 where visitors aand tourists were present. They fired indiscriminately on the pilgrims in Exhibition Hall 1 and succeeded in killing about 26 people. The terrorists then took cover and hid in the temple grounds.
By now the police and the commandos had arrived on the scene. They evacuated the pilgrims and started clearing the vast grounds of the temple complex, systematically searching for the 2 terrorists.
The 50 pilgrims within the main temple building were rescued, as were about 100 people from Exhibition Hall 1. As the pilgrims within the main temple were being evacuated the terrorists began to shoot at them. The commandos fired back and ensured that the pilgrims could escape unharmed. The terrorists' hideout was also identified.
By now the National Security Guards had been dispatched from Delhi to assist in the operation. Specially trained for anti-terrorist operations and hostage rescue situations these 'Black Cat' commandos arrived and took up their positions at around 11.30 pm. Through the night the shooting and pressure on the terrorists to emerge from their hiding place continued. Around 6.45 am in the morning the terrorists tried to shoot their way out of their hideout and were gunned down by the NSG commandos.
The final death toll was more than 30 people dead and more than 80 people injured. The NSG operation was called Vajra Shakti and the 'Black Cat' commandos who carried out the quick and efficient rescue were appreciated for their professionalism and courage under fire.
The dead terrorists were identified as Ashraf Ali Mohammed Farooq and Murtuza Hafiz Yasin and were proven to have been trained and despatched by the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, based in Pakistan.
As the attack was investigated and conspiracy was revealed the Gujarat Police arrested several people in connection with the crime. The arrests were made under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). After subsequent trials the death sentence was awarded to Mufti Abdul Qyyum Mansuri, Shan Miya, and Adam Ajmeri. Conspirators who received lesser sentences were: Altaf Hussain who was sentenced to five years imprisonment, Abdulmiyan Qadri who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and Mohammed Salim Shaikh who was sentenced to life imprisonment. Those sentenced to death appealed to higher courts for leniency, but the higher courts upheld the sentences citing the cold-blooded nature of the crime of killing innocent civilians and waging war against the state of India.
Also on this day:
1925: Dr Autar Singh Paintal, a pioneer in the field of cardio-respiratory sensory physiology was born.
2002: Dr P.R. Pisharoty, the father of remote sensing in India, passed away.