Two days after the 5th anniversary of seven bomb blasts on Mumbai’s suburban railway line, three near-simultaneous explosions rocked crowded neighbourhoods of India’s financial capital within three minutes of each other on Wednesday evening.
According to India’s home ministry, at least 21 were killed and 141 injured in the attacks, – the most potent since the 2008 assault on the city, – sending the world’s largest democracy into a state of high alert.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and appealed for calm. “I appeal to the people of Mumbai to show a united face,” Singh said in a statement.
One blast occurred at the Opera House, an area full of diamond stores in south Mumbai. Another blast, also in south Mumbai, was at the Zaveri Bazaar, a big gold and silver market. And the third explosion was at Dadar in the centre of the city. The first blast was reported at about 6.45pm.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks till the filing of this report.
Preliminary investigations indicate that improvised explosive devices (IED) were used in the attacks, but the nature of explosives remains unknown.
“The vehicles used (in the attacks) were scooters and motorcycles,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told India’s CNN-IBN TV.
Other television channels said that an improvised explosive device was placed in a car, suggesting the work of local groups rather than an international terror network.
A team of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is examining the incident, said it is too early to determine who was involved.
“However, we are examining the possible involvement of Indian Mujahideen – a home-grown militant outfit,” IB sources told The Express Tribune. “The blasts bear the signature of Indian Mujahideen,” echoed a member of the NIA, which is also investigating the case.
The Indian Mujahideen are a small group of militants that have allegedly carried out a string of low-intensity attacks in India.
Television images showed blaring ambulances carrying away the injured at one of the attack sites. At Dadar, one of the explosions left car windows shattered and uprooted electric poles. Police were seen using sniffer dogs to look for clues and check for any more explosive devices, while local people helped paramedics carry away some of the injured.
“We heard a big blast. The building shook, the windows shattered. It was deafening,” said Aagam Doshi, a witness of the blast at the Opera House and a diamond merchant in south Mumbai. “We came outside, and the area was filled with black smoke. There were bodies lying all over the street, there was lots of blood… We saw many bodies missing arms and missing legs.”
Soon after the explosions, Home Minister P Chidambaram convened a meeting of intelligence agencies to assess the situation.
“This is a coordinated attack by terrorists and the death toll could rise. I urge the people to maintain peace,” said Chidambaram after the meeting. The home ministry has decided to issue a detailed statement every two hours.
Apart from the high alert across the country, security agencies have sounded an alert in 14 cities that are considered to be on the list of terrorists. Senior home ministry officials said that the four metro cities – Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Surat – were amongst the cities were on red alert.
Pakistan’s president and prime minister condemned multiple blasts in Mumbai. “President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the government and the people of Pakistan, have condemned the blasts in Mumbai and expressed distress on the loss of lives and injuries,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The president and the prime minister have expressed their deepest sympathies to the Indian leadership,” on the loss of lives, injuries and damage to property in Mumbai, it added.
US President Barack Obama also condemned the Mumbai attacks and offered support to bring the perpetrators to justice, according to a statement read by White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“I strongly condemn the outrageous attacks in Mumbai and my thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and those who have lost loved ones,” Obama said. He said the US government “continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens.”
He added that “India is a close friend and partner of the United States,” and that “the American people will stand with the Indian people in times of trial, and we will offer support to India’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.”
While there was no direct blame, there were a number of unofficial theories doing the rounds.
One pointed out that the attacks coincided with the Martyrs Day being celebrated in Kashmir. Another, somewhat fanciful, theory pointed out that the attacks ‘coincided with the birthday’ of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, who is still in captivity in India. (With additional input from news wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.