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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Could the Holtzbergs have been saved?

An Indian professor in New York City claims that he negotiated with the killers of Chabad emissaries to Mumbai Rabbi and Mrs. Gavriel Holtzberg - and that there was a chance to save them.
This was around midnight, and when I got on the line I heard a low male voice. Following Shemtov’s promptings, I asked the person where he was. “You know where I am speaking from,” he said. (I did not take notes during these events; my account of the conversation is from notes that I jotted down afterwards.) This was the sort of uninformative response that was typical over the course of the next hours.

Given the long distance, and noise on both ends, at times I wasn’t sure exactly what my interlocutor was trying to tell me, and I had to ask for clarification. His voice was so soft that I assumed the connection must be bad, but Shemtov said he could hear me easily and asked me to speak more softly so as not to agitate the man on the other end. Thinking upon all of this later on, I realized there had hardly been any tension in the voice at the other end — he had been calm and collected.

I had never before been in a situation of this sort, and when I was asked to get on the phone, I had no idea what was waiting for me. There was a lot of trepidation in my mind — would I understand his dialect of Urdu, would I say the right things at the right time, would I perhaps upset him and precipitate some undesirable events.

At first I had a bit of difficulty with the speaker’s Urdu. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but also by Muslims in India and I could not pinpoint where the speaker came from. As the conversation continued, however, I got a better feel for the dialect and style of Urdu, my confidence increased.

Although we didn’t know the speaker’s name in the beginning he later told us it was Imran; presumably, this was the same Imran Babar who was reported as having called a television station in New Delhi. Right at the very beginning, we asked Imran if everybody was all right. We asked him this several times and each time he said everybody was all right. At one point, we asked him if all the people there were conscious, because we had heard reports that some of them were unconscious. Imran told us that everybody was fine: Nobody was hurt and they had not touched anybody. “We haven’t even slapped them around,” he said.

The bigger mission for us, on the call, was to try and find out what Imran wanted. His one demand was to speak with someone from the Indian government.

“Put us in touch with the Indian government and we will let the hostages go,” he said.
Read the whole thing.

Unless these people did not realize why they were being sent to Mumbai (which seems highly improbable), I find it hard to believe that the Holtzbergs could have been saved. It seems more likely that their bodies would have been exchanged for live terrorists. Negotiating with terrorists almost never pays for the good guys.


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