Massacre in Mumbai: Ten minutes, eight bombs, 163 rail passengers killed

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At least 163 people were killed yesterday in a series of co-ordinated bomb blasts on Mumbai's suburban train network. Six of the eight bombs went off inside packed commuter trains in the middle of rush hour, injuring more than 300 people, many of them severely.

Witnesses spoke of seeing severed limbs and body parts littering the tracks. Other passengers rushed to help the wounded, wrapping them in whatever scraps of cloth they could find, fashioning makeshift stretchers, and carrying them out of the wreckage. At one hospital where the wounded were treated, a witness said the floors were covered in blood.

"I saw more than 35 bodies, some without legs," one survivor, Dhiraj Bajpee, said. "I even saw severed halves of bodies." A shopkeeper who was near by when one bomb went off said the blast was so powerful he thought the train had been hit by lightning.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but immediate suspicions were turned on Islamic militant groups operating in Kashmir, particularly Lashkar-e Toiba. Suspicions also pointed towards " D Company", a highly politicised criminal mafia that used to be based in Mumbai.

The attacks brought Mumbai to a standstill. Yesterday evening, in an extremely rare move, the police closed the entire rail network down. They had, in effect, shut down the city.

Mumbai's phone network was completely jammed as people tried to call their loved ones to make sure they were safe. Survivors asked the Indian television news channels to broadcast their names to let their families know they were alive. Heavy monsoon downpours were slowing the rescue efforts last night.

The first explosion came just before 6.30pm local time (2pm BST) at the peak of the rush hour, in a train near the busy Khar Road station. Seven more bombs went off in the 10 minutes that followed at locations all over Mumbai, from downtown to the furthest suburbs, including two at Borivili, said a senior Indian government official.

"I urge the people to remain calm, not to believe rumours and carry on their activity normally," the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said, describing the attacks as a "shocking and cowardly attempt to spread a feeling of hatred".

Police said they had received intelligence that an attack was imminent but that they had no information as to where or when.

There will be immediate fears of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the attacks, especially with many initial suspicions pointing towards militant Islamic groups that operate in Kashmir but are based in Pakistan.

Islamabad was quick to condemn the bombs, saying: "Pakistan strongly condemns the series of bomb blasts on commuter trains. This despicable act of terrorism has resulted in the loss of a large number of precious lives."

The bombings are the latest in a recent series of attacks in India. In October last year, 61 people were killed in three co-ordinated bombings at shopping markets in Delhi, on the last shopping day before the biggest Hindu festival of the year. And in March, 20 people were killed when a bomb went off at a temple in Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi. Police say they believe both attacks were the work of Lashkar-e Toiba.

An attack on Mumbai has considerable symbolic value, since it is India's financial capital, and the powerhouse of the country's transformation into the world's second-fastest growing economy.

But most of yesterday's bombings did not target the wealthy city centre but trains carrying commuters home to the vast suburbs where most of the city's 17 million or so people live.

It is not the first time Mumbai has been targeted: in 1993, in what many analysts believe was the prototype for al-Qa'ida's tactic of co-ordinated attacks across a city, 13 bombs went off in different locations in Mumbai, including the stock exchange, killing at least 250 people. In 2003, 52 people were killed in twin bombings, one at the Gateway to India, Mumbai's main tourist attraction.

There are many groups which could have been responsible for yesterday's atrocity. India is the target for one of the widest range of militant groups in the world, from Maoist guerrillas to tribal separatists. But most do not have the capability to mount such an attack.

There were unconfirmed reports that Indian intelligence was focusing on Lashkar-e Toiba as the prime suspect for the attacks. Lashkar's main cause is to "liberate" Kashmir from Indian rule.It used to have close links to Pakistan's ISI intelligence but Islamabad says links have been severed.

There were also reports that Indian intelligence was investigating the possible involvement of the "D Company" mafia group, which is believed to have been behind the bombings in 1993. Run by the multimillionaire Dawood Ibrahim, the group was entirely non-political until 1993. But in the wake of the religious violence that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, Mr Ibrahim, a Muslim, is believed to have decided to get involved.

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