25 September 2002
An account of how terrorists attacked the Akshardham complex...
The world watched in shock as the harrowing and tragic events unfolded at Akshardham, a unique cultural complex dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who inspired peace and harmony. Every year 2.2 million people from throughout the world visit Akshardham and are inspired with the message of peace and hope. On the ill-fated day of 24 September 2002, this holy place of pilgrimage was attacked by terrorists. What started at 4.45 p.m. ended in an extremely terrifying and heinous carnage. The series of events that took place on that day are described as they happened:
A white car dropped two terrorists outside Akshardham's Gate 3 at 4.45 p.m. The terrorists took out their sleeping bags and jackets full of automatic weapons and grenades to arm themselves as the car sped away.
The terrorists tried to enter the complex through Gate 3, but the volunteer security guards stopped them for a security check. They jumped the fence, firing their guns as they walked through the amusement park. Then they rushed onto the main walkway of Akshardham, opening fire on innocent tourists and pilgrims browsing at a nearby bookstall.
Both the terrorists charged towards the main stone monument, while throwing hand grenades. In the meantime, BAPS volunteers communicated to all volunteers working in the main monument and exhibition halls about the terrorist attack and instructed them to quickly usher in all the visitors and lock the doors. The main monument was thus locked shut from inside. The terrorists failed to enter the main monument by mere seconds.
With their attempt to damage and seize the main monument foiled, the terrorists switched their target and dashed towards the exhibition halls. The volunteers had closed the doors of the multimedia theatre from the inside. The terrorists instead pulled open the exit door of Exhibition Hall 1. After getting inside, they went on a mad shooting rampage targeting the exhibition audience inside the hall. Many innocent men, women and children were killed and wounded.
The terror unleashed by the two madmen ceased once they had left through the exit door to climb onto the top of the parikrama and hide there.
All this had merely taken 10-15 minutes, but that was enough time for the police security guards and commando units to reach the premises. The police and commandos escorted hundreds of visitors from around the complex to safety and many volunteers helped transport the injured to nearby hospitals.
The commandos and security forces started their vigorous search for the two terrorists, knowing they could be anywhere on the 23-acre campus. While the terrorists were busy retreating to another hide out, the security forces took advantage of the momentary ceasefire to successfully transfer the remaining 100 visitors from Exhibition Hall 1 to a secure area outside the complex.
At 7.30 p.m., when the security forces brought out the 30 visitors from inside the main monument, the terrorists opened fire at the commandos who had climbed on top of the parikrama. Fortunately, no one was hit. The commandos surrounded the area and continued the crossfire making it impossible for the terrorists to escape.
In the meantime, Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Advani ordered India's top notch National Security Guard, the Black Cat commandos, to be airlifted from Delhi and join the hunt for the terrorists at Akshardham. At around 11.30 p.m., the hunt intensified as 35 Black Cats took their positions within the Akshardham complex, after formulating their attack strategies under the leadership of Brigadier Seetapathy.
Also, India's President Dr. Abdul Kalam placed a personal call to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and the inspirer of Akshardham, to express his condolences. Deputy PM Mr. Advani assured Pramukh Swami Maharaj that he would do everything possible to overpower the two terrorists. India's Prime Minister Mr. Vajpayee also communicated from the Maldives.
By this time the national and international media had started covering the event as a national tragedy.
The hunt and the shoot-outs continued sporadically through the night. Then the terrorists climbed down the parikrama and took shelter in a nearby bathroom. The greatest challenge for the NSG was the night. They were trying to pass the night till the first light of dawn. During this period they fired to draw fire from the terrorists and thus exhaust their stock of ammunition.
A tight cordon was thrown around the area where the terrorists had holed up. The NSG commandos were in the first line, then followed by men from the Rapid Action Force, Border Security Force, State Reserve Police and finally the Anti-Terrorist Squad. The NSG commandos were armed with the latest machine guns, hand grenades and rocket launchers. Sniffer dogs were also called in.
As the night wore on the NSG faced a bigger disadvantage because the terrorists had moved into the darkness of the grove of the trees by the rear of exhibition hall 3.
At daybreak the terrorists became desperate. The firing reached a feverish pitch. At around 6.45 a.m., the Black Cat Commandos ended the 14-hour long ordeal by shooting the two terrorists hiding in the bushes.
In the meantime, doctors and medical staff at the local hospitals tirelessly performed the gruelling task to save the lives of those who were gravely injured. BAPS volunteers and members of the public donated blood to help save precious lives. The final casualty count reached 33, with 70 wounded.
As the horrifying event unfurled, many national and international dignitaries, government officials, organisations and media reached out to express their deepest condolences. Several national leaders, irrespective of their political alignments or differences, paid a visit to Akshardham Complex, including: the Prime Minister of India Mr. Vajpayee, the Deputy PM Mr. Advani, Congress Party Leader Sonia Gandhi, Governor of Gujarat Mr. Sundersinh Bhandari, Defense Minister Mr. George Fernandes and Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr. Narendra Modi.
The Akshardham carnage is yet another international tragedy in which terrorists have taken the lives of innocent men, women, and children in a senseless act of violence. Their act of cowardice is even more acutely felt since it was perpetrated in the midst of the very place that serves as an inspiring source of peace, harmony, and tolerance.
Pramukh Swami Maharaj offered his deepest sympathy and prayers for the unfortunate victims and their grieving relatives. He also prayed for the quick recovery of the injured. His ardent wish is that such tragedies never afflict any community or nation anywhere in the world. Finally, he appealed to the citizens of India to maintain peace and harmony in the wake of this national tragedy.
The Akshardham Complex is a 23-acre site that is dedicated to peace, harmony and social understanding. Using modern technology, the traditional values that are the foundation of the Indian culture are conveyed through marvelous multimedia presentations, sculptures and gardens. The Complex is also home to priceless Indian literature. Created by volunteers and dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan, Akshardham is a powerful experience that attracts over 2 million visitors annually, including such dignitaries as former President Bill Clinton, His Holiness Dalai Lama, Indian Ambassador to the United States Abid Hussain, Prince Philip of the United Kingdom and the former president of Poland, Lech Walesa.
For more information on Akshardham, visit its website at www.akshardham.com.
BAPS is a worldwide socio-spiritual organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations dedicated to peace and harmony. BAPS strives to provide spiritual, cultural and social care for society as a whole and is known for its strict observance of ahimsa, the Hindu code of nonviolence. BAPS conducts humanitarian work through a worldwide network consisting of over 8,100 centers, including 4,070 children's centers. Some examples of BAPS' work include natural disaster relief, water conservation and reforestation. Most recently, BAPS was instrumental in the recovery, relief and rehabilitation efforts of the state of Gujarat after the devastating earthquake in January 2001. In North America, over 50,000 families carry out the vision of BAPS.