People living close to the Chabad center that was besieged by Islamist fanatics who murdered its Rabbi and his wife fear that by reopening it, their Mumbai neighborhood could once again become a terror target.
Some residents near Nariman House said they would rather that Chabad, owners of the badly damaged building, did not return as planned. Others said they would like security to ensure their own safety, as the Jews had been specifically targeted by the militants.
Nariman House, in Mumbai’s busy Colaba Market area near the waterfront, was overrun by heavily-armed gunmen as part of coordinated attacks across the city’s southern peninsula on November 26.
The militants, who also took hostages at two luxury hotels, killed R’ Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28, who ran the Chabad-Lubavitch center at Nariman House, and their four guests. Four of the bodies were found in the building’s shul, said R’ Dov Goldberg, who worked with Chabad-Lubavitch in the resort town of Goa and was due to replace R’ Holtzberg at the Mumbai facility.
Indian and Israeli officials have said Nariman House was targeted by the militants, linked to Pakistan-based extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba, because it housed the Jewish center.
Ashok Pandy, 62, who runs a small sweet stall just feet away from the center, agreed. “What happened here happened because they were here,” he said. “If they come back it might create some problems, so they need security and we need security to make us feel safe.”
The lane in front of the grey building has been cordoned off and half a dozen policemen stand guard to ensure no one approaches.
The roads here are narrow and crammed with tiny jewelry and tailor shops, while un-tethered goats nibble at piles of garbage.
Ahmad Khan, another resident, said: “I won’t feel safe when they return.” Speaking as he tied up a goat in readiness for slaughter to mark the upcoming Eid-al-Adha festival, Khan said he did not believe official accounts that the center had been attacked by Islamist fanatics. “They were here for two or three years, we don’t know who attacked them, if it was the Jews themselves using their own arms to fight the police, or others. This is their own house, they can come back and live in it if they want, but I won’t feel safe,” he said.
Jewish community leader Solomon Sopher said he understood the apprehension of the local residents. “One bitten, twice shy,” said Sopher, chairman of Kenesess Eliyahu shul, the biggest of Mumbai’s two shuls. “It is not going to be easy for them to forget the trauma that has taken place here,” he said, adding that it would be long time before the building was habitable.
During the siege of Nariman House — which lasted about 48 hours — residents of surrounding buildings were told to stay indoors but some were caught in crossfire as security forces tried to dislodge the militants.
Haresh Gohil, 25, was shot in the back, according to Mint newspaper. The call center worker earned 20,000 rupees (4,000 dollars) a month, making him the highest earner in his extended family of 15, who live behind Nariman House.
“We are worried. Will this happen again? Can it happen again? If the Jews come here, they are welcome. But will that bring terrorists here again,” his brother-in-law Ajay Parmar was quoted by the paper as saying.