Death toll from Bombay blasts rises above 300

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THE death toll from the 13 bombs which rocked Bombay on Friday climbed beyond 300 yesterday, making it one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in history. With more than 1,000 injured, many seriously, the toll is expected to rise still further.

A chain of powerful bombs, hidden mainly in parked cars, exploded in the city on Friday afternoon, causing panic and devastation among its population of 10 million people. Government officials said the targets - including the Stock Exchange, the Air India building, several crowded markets and three luxury hotels - were selected because their destruction would destabilise India's financial capital.

But several bombs also exploded outside hospitals and schools, killing dozens of children. A senior government official, Sharad Pawar, said the bombers also aimed to start another outbreak of rioting between Bombay's Hindus and Muslims.

The Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, visiting the city yesterday, said the bombs had been aimed at India's financial centre to undermine the economy. He toured the severely damaged Stock Exchange building, where rescue workers were still digging charred bodies out of the rubble. He said the government was determined to track down the bombers.

An unnamed Kashmiri suspect was arrested. Under interrogation he gave the names of five accomplices, according to police. A search had been mounted for them and an Iranian whose names he also supplied, the United News of India press agency reported. Officials said they suspected a well financed foreign group was behind the explosions.

Under interrogation, the Kashmiri youth allegedly revealed that five of his accomplices had slipped away from the Centaur Hotel during the chaos that followed the blasts. Close to Bombay's international airport, the Centaur is frequently used by foreign transit passengers.

Amarjit Singh Samra, the Bombay police chief, said yesterday that a Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was the chief suspect. Police and army units were last night patrolling mixed Hindu- Muslim neighbourhoods to avert another flare-up of communal fighting.