US warns India over new terrorist danger

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE UNITED STATES yesterday warned India that the terrorist bombers who set off a chain of explosions last Friday in Bombay, killing more than 250 people and injuring 1,300 others, may strike next in the capital, New Delhi.

The US State Department informed New Delhi that it had received fresh information indicating that 'there may be a heightened threat at this time of additional acts of terrorism centred in New Delhi'. Washington is urging Americans to postpone travel to India. US bomb experts will help Indian authorities sift through the rubble of Friday's 11 blasts, looking for clues that might tie in the plastic explosives used in Bombay to the device that last month damaged New York's World Trade Center.

In Bombay, police uncovered a possible link between the bombers and one of the city's most powerful underworld gangs, led by Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian Muslim operating out of Dubai. Police identified two suspects, Philoo Khan, 30, and Mangesh Pawar, 26, who may have carried out out the bombing of three Bombay hotels. The two men, wanted for murder, extortion and drug smuggling, were tracked to a flat above a cinema hall on Monday and surrounded by police. But the suspects shot their way free of the police ambush.

The police commissioner, AS Samra, said: 'It was a bad evening for me. My men weren't able to nab the wanted criminals.' In all, police arrested four suspects, all Indians, in connection with the bombings.

Bombay police said that as many as 50 bombers may have been involved in Friday's wave of explosions across the city. The bombs were hidden inside cars, motor-scooters and in briefcases left inside the luxury hotels and seem to have been detonated by remote control. On Monday, two motor-scooters loaded with plastic explosives were defused by police in a crowded bazaar of diamond merchants. The Home Minister, SB Chavan, said in parliament that the blasts were the work of 'some foreign country acting through their local agents'. Many Indian politicians have accused Pakistan of collusion in the bombing, but Islamabad denies this.

It is not clear why a Bombay criminal gang would help a foreign power set off bombs in India's financial capital. One possibility is greed: over recent years Bombay's underworld chiefs have earned fortunes smuggling gold, electronic goods and foreign currency into India from the Gulf states. But now, with economic reforms having stripped away India's heavy customs duties, the gangs' revenue has fallen drastically. Drugs and extortion are their only income.

Police speculate that underworld mercenaries may have been recruited by Muslim fundamentalist groups or an Islamic country seeking revenge after communal riots in Bombay in December and January which left hundreds of Muslims dead. Many Muslims were also killed by Friday's blasts, but the explosives were timed to go off at the time of the noon prayer, when devout Muslims were inside their mosques.