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
- 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
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
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.
For more information on BAPS, visit its website at www.swaminarayan.org.