India blames Delhi bombings on group linked to Kashmir

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The Independent Online

The markets of Delhi were deserted yesterday, after at least 61 people were killed in three co-ordinated bomb attacks on Saturday. On what would usually be the busiest shopping weekend of the year, ahead of the Hindu festival of Diwali, the tinsel decorations and fairy lights hung over empty streets. Few were out shopping, for fear of further attacks. At least 110 of the injured are still in hospital, many with severe burns.

As 22 suspects were rounded up in raids on small, anonymous hotels in Delhi, police and intelligence sources said the investigation into who was behind the bombings was pointing towards militants in Kashmir - just hours after a breakthrough in talks over the divided territory.

Shortly after the bombs hit Delhi, India and Pakistan agreed to open the de facto border that divides Kashmir for the first time in decades to allow relief through to survivors of this month's earthquake.

Then came a claim of responsibility for the Delhi bombings, from a small, little-known Kashmiri militant group Islami Inqilab Mahaz, or Islamic Revolutionary Front in Kashmir. Indian security services said that the militants are likely to be a front for their chief suspect, Lashkar-e Toiba. No evidence has been made public to support this claim.

Lashkar-e Toiba is the most powerful of the myriad militant factions fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, but it is Pakistani rather than Kashmiri. And the group is listed as a "terrorist organisation" by Britain and the US.

More details emerged of the bombings yesterday. They were not suicide attacks, the explosives were planted in advance. The first bomb, in Paharganj, near budget hotels frequented by Western backpackers, was hidden in the back of an autorickshaw. The bomb at Sarojini Nagar market, which caused the most casualties, was hidden in a fast food stall or a van parked nearby. Casualties were prevented in the third bomb, which had been hidden on a bus, because the driver and conductor spotted it and threw it into bushes before it exploded.

India has accused Lashkar of being behind the 2001 attack on the parliament building in Delhi that brought it to the brink of nuclear war with Pakistan, and twin bombings in Bombay in 2003 in which a total of 52 people died.

Lashkar was briefly linked to the investigation into the July 7 London bombings, after reports that one of the bombers had visited a madrassa (religious school) closely tied to the group in Pakistan, but no further information has emerged linking it to the London attacks.

But it is by no means certain Lashkar was behind the Delhi attacks. India is probably facing more violent militant organisations dedicated to more causes than any other country in the world, including tribal separatists and Maoist revolutionaries. But few have ever mounted an attack on the scale of the Delhi bombings.

Islami Inqilab Mahaz has rarely cropped up. In 1997 the name was used to claim responsibility for the killing of four Americans in the Pakistani city of Karachi. It has also been named as the group which first helped Lashkar-e Toiba infiltrate Indian-held Kashmir.

In previous years, India would routinely accuse Pakistani intelligence of being behind an attacks like this, and the two countries would start massing troops in Kashmir. But all that has changed with the peace process, and unlike the previous administration, the current Indian government has deliberately sought to downplay such suggestions.

Analysts suggested the militants may want to wreck the peace process between India and Pakistan, and any peace dividend from the aid effort for the earthquake survivors.