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India: Bombay Appears Cautious About Laying Blame For Bombings

Hindus and Muslims mourned today the victims of a double car bomb attack in the Indian city of Bombay which left at least 50 people dead. Indian police say they suspect Islamic militants with links to Pakistan. But in stark contrast to events of one year ago, New Delhi has appeared cautious, so far, about accusing Islamabad of any direct role.

Prague, 26 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Indian police and soldiers are on a heightened security alert as authorities investigate a double car bombing in Bombay yesterday that killed more than 50 people and injured more than 100.

The explosions were the most deadly in Bombay since 1993, when a series of bombs killed at least 260 people in what was seen as retaliation for the deaths of minority Muslims after Hindu-Muslim riots in northwestern India. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sheltering some of the suspects in those decade-old blasts.

Security has been tightened in Bombay and New Delhi, as well as the volatile Gujarat state in northwestern India and other areas where tensions between Hindus and Muslims are high. Security checks also have been increased at airports, bus depots, railway stations, places of worship, monuments, and government buildings.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks. Bombay Police Commissioner Ranjeet Singh Sharma says the main suspects include banned militant Islamist groups.

In fact, the methods used by the bombers appear similar to those used in previous terrorist attacks in both Pakistan and India that have been attributed to militant Islamists. But other than those similarities, Sharma did not disclose any specific evidence that might link Islamists to the attacks. "There were blasts at two places. Both bombs were in the trunks of taxis parked there," he said.

Correspondents have quoted other investigators as saying that the explosives used in both blasts were primitive rather than high-tech plastic explosives.

Sharma said police suspect that the twin bombings may be linked to five other attacks that have occurred on trains, buses, and markets of suburban Bombay during the last eight months.

He said the wave of terrorism could be a backlash by militant Islamists avenging the gruesome communal riots in the state of Gujarat last February in which some 3,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- were killed.

Indian officials also have noted that about 30 percent of the people who were killed or injured by yesterday's explosions were Muslims.

Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani has named two groups as the primary suspects: the Student Islamic Movement of India and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.

But New Delhi's official pronouncements on the blasts come in stark contrast to its statements about similar terrorist attacks on the subcontinent just one year ago, when relations between India and neighboring Pakistan had deteriorated to the brink of war.

Last year, New Delhi had been quick to accuse Islamabad of supporting cross-border terrorist attacks into India and Indian-administered Kashmir. But relations have been on the mend since then.

Islamabad yesterday condemned the Bombay bombings as "acts of terrorism." And so far, Indian officials have appeared careful not to accuse Islamabad of any direct involvement.

Nevertheless, Deputy Prime Minister Advani today noted that the latest Bombay bombings were similar to the series of terrorist attacks of 1993.

"Some of those who carried out the same [kind of] attacks 10 years ago, they were detained and a case is registered against them. Some of them ran away and took shelter in Pakistan. The Indian government has already asked Pakistan to hand over a list of 20 'most wanted' people to us, whose names are with Interpol and the courts," Advani said.

Advani today also reiterated India's long-standing demand that Pakistan immediately hand over suspects in the 1993 attacks.

"I once again urge Pakistan to hand over the men from that list of 20, of which one has been handed over to us by the UAE government when [the suspect] went to Dubai. The 19 remaining are still in Pakistan. They should be handed over to us and only then can we believe that they meant what they said yesterday when they condemned the attacks," Advani said.

Yesterday's first explosion was in Zaveri Bazaar, a crowded shopping district of Bombay near a major Hindu temple. Within minutes, a second bomb exploded at a popular gathering place and tourist site -- the Gateway of India.

Ghulam Noor, an eyewitness who was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel across the street from the Gateway of India, described what he saw:

"I was in the living room. I saw from there [that] outside [the] bodies were lying around -- whether they were bodies or injured. But there were quite a few injured obviously. I saw one of the taxis. It literally flew and landed in front of the hotel. And quite a few cars were damaged," Noor said.

Chagan Bhujbal, the deputy chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra, says he thinks the bombers were trying to damage India's economy.

"I believe these terrorists have chosen these two places -- the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel, which are our major tourist attractions, and Zaveri Bazaar, which is our business center -- to hit at our economy, which was doing well within the last few months. Our police are trying to find out the people behind these attacks and they are on alert," Bhujbal said.

Ashok Ajmera, a stock market analyst in Bombay, says the blasts led to panic selling on the Bombay Stock Exchange yesterday.

"The bomb blast definitely triggered the real panic selling, because many people who were [undecided about whether to sell their shares] and people who had built up huge positions in the derivatives referring to the market also started off-loading [shares]. So naturally, it was a double impact," Ajmera said. "The profit taking in the market had already started and on the top of it this panic, and the various kinds of rumors about the impact of the bomb blast and [about] the actual [blasts] -- like [rumors that it had happened in] four places, five places, [rumors of] 100 people dead. Somebody else said 500 people died. [All these rumors] created real panic. At the same time, the impact was not so much on the stock market downside because many people could not communicate with their brokers. The whole communications system was jammed for some time."

Significantly, the Bombay Stock Exchange index rebounded from its losses of yesterday with a gain today of 3.6 percent.

Amit Mitra, the secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says he does not think the economic impact of the attacks will be significant.

"Today we are a stable, steadily globalizing, reasonably liberalized economy with a GDP growth rate expected to be over 6 or 6.5 percent this year. We think that luckily, historically speaking, these blasts ought not to have any major impact on our economy," Mitra said.

For Bombay residents, however, the explosions serve as a chilling reminder of the 13 serial bomb blasts that devastated the city a decade before.