Horror and heroism: 5 years after the Mumbai attacks, a view from inside the Taj Hotel

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

On the Radar

Five years ago today, the Pakistani-based Islamist organization Lashkar e-Taiba launched a series of coordinated attacks across Mumbai, India – killing more than 160 people and injuring hundreds more.

The attack amounted to a harrowing three-day-long ordeal for those who were trapped inside the world renowned luxury Taj Hotel – one of the primary targets. And a new investigative book, “The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel,” tells many of their stories in meticulous detail.

“The heroes of this piece, and there were plenty of heroes, were the ordinary, poorly paid Taj staffers, who miraculously decided to fight back, and a couple of other guests who behaved in an incredibly heroic fashion,” said co-author Adrian Levy.

Levy, and his co-author Cathy Scott-Clark, told “On the Radar” of an active duty U.S. Marine captain, Ravi Dharnidharka, who was dining on the top floor of the hotel when the attack began, and sprang into action.

“He realized very quickly from his training that, as an American soldier, he would be a prime target for any sort of hostage taking so he ripped up all of his identification papers,” Scott-Clark said.

“Then, he proceeded with some other commandos from South Africa, who happened to be in the same restaurant, to evacuate 150, maybe 200, guests from the top floor of the tower 20 flights down a fire escape, crossing over the path of the gunmen like a snipers alley, and got them all out,” she said.

But not all the stories are as hopeful as Dharnidharka’s.

The book also detail how many unsuspecting hotel guests inadvertently gave away their location to the terrorists, who were hunting their victims in real-time with the assistance of a Skype-like system that connected them to operators directing their next moves from Karachi.

“The Taj had actually paid Google Earth to do a fly-through around the Taj Hotel, so when the gunmen are moving around the city and approaching, the controllers can call and say ‘take a left, take a right.’ They can navigate them almost remotely,” Levy said. “And at the same time they’ve also got TVs clued into CNN, BBC, the local talk channels which means … they can also see the guests that are calling in horror and giving away their locations.”

The most shocking discovery from their investigative reporting, Scott-Clark and Levy said, was how much advanced warning India and the Taj Hotel had of a possible attack.

Most of the intelligence, they said, came to India from the CIA. And while the hotel heeded warnings for a time and increased security, they ultimately withdrew the extra security out of concerns that it detracted from the mystique and comfort of the five-star hotel.

“On the night of the attack, long predicted in all these intelligence warnings, there was nobody to really stop these gunmen from getting in,” Scott-Clark said, despite the fact, as Levy added, that there had been “26 warnings spread from 2006 to 2008, no one was ready.”

To learn more about Levy and Scott-Clark’s reporting, including how Lashkar e-Taiba had staked out the locations of attack in advance with the help of an American-Pakistani, check out this episode of “On the Radar.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Jim Martin and Barry Haywood contributed to this episode.