Terror returns to Mumbai as bomb blasts leave at least 21 dead

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The spectre of terror and violence returned to India's financial capital yesterday as three explosions were set off within a matter of minutes, killing at least 21 people and injuring more than 140. Officials described the incident as a terror attack but declined to publicly speculate as to who may have been responsible.

In the first attacks in Mumbai since November 2008, when Pakistan-based militants lay siege to parts of the city for almost three days and killing more than 160 people, the explosions were set off in crowded areas at evening rush hour. Reports suggested the blasts, described as coming from improvised explosive devices, all occurred between 6.50pm and 7.04pm.

Images from the scene of the explosions showed streets slick with blood, people suffering injuries and corpses under plastic sheets. The injured were ferried to hospitals across the city in taxis, trucks and any other available vehicles. Doctors called for blood donations and armed police cordoned off those areas struck by the blasts.

Last night, with cities across India placed on alert, the country's Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, said in Delhi that the authorities had no information about further attacks. "I would appeal to the people of Mumbai and people all over the country to remain calm and to remain peaceful. There is no information [regarding] any other bomb or threat."

He added that because of the timing of the blasts, "we infer that this was a co-ordinated attack by terrorists".

Perhaps unsurprisingly, local media was already speculating that the blasts were the work of either Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown militant organisation that has carried out attacks elsewhere in India. Some reports said that yesterday was the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the sole survivor of the 10 militants who carried out the 2008 attacks.

Yet the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, also refused to be drawn on the issue of who was responsible. Speaking on television, he added: "It is another attack on the heart of India, an attack on Mumbai."

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's President, and its Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, were among the first to condemn the blasts and offer their condolences. President Barack Obama offered American help in tracing those responsible. There was no word whether the attack would interfere with scheduled talks later this month in Delhi between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers.

The first of yesterday's blasts hit at 6:50pm in Jhaveri Bazar, a jewellery market in Kalbadevi, the second at Opera House and the third in Dadar West, in central Mumbai. Police said the blast at Opera House appeared to have been the strongest and had caused the most injuries.

Mumbai has been the scene of repeated attacks. In 2006 more than 200 people were killed when explosive devices were detonated on commuter trains. After each attack, locals complain that for all their claims, police do little to improve security. Yesterday evening, people were again reeling from the realisation that the city had become struck by violence they could do nothing to prevent.

"It's horrendous. Forget whether it's terrorists or not. To attack unsurprising folks with an IED, I think is horrendous," said Arun Kapur as he sat in front of his television set watching the news of the attacks in the northern neighbourhood of Bandra. His wife, Rita Kapur, added: "It's so sad. We really feel so sad. Mumbai used to be such a safe city."

History of attacks

* On 12 March 1993, more than 250 people were killed and 1,100 injured on Black Friday when 15 bombs and grenades exploded across the city, causing damage of millions of pounds. The Bombay Stock Exchange was hit first, followed by a string of other areas including the airport and Zaveri Bazaar, which was also targeted yesterday. The blasts were said to have been ordered by the Muslim-dominated underworld in retaliation for Hindu-Muslim riots.

* On 11 July 2006, more than 180 people were killed when seven co-ordinated explosions ripped through trains on Mumbai's busy commuter network. The blasts were blamed on Islamist militants belonging to the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

* The group was also behind the terrorist attack which held Mumbai under siege for almost three days in 2008. The bloody rampage began at the Victoria Terminus railway station on 26 November when gunmen began firing indiscriminately. Targets included markets, hotels, a Jewish centre and a hospital, and 174 people were killed including nine gunmen.

Enjoli Liston