Three Blasts in New Delhi Kill at Least 55

Indian police work at the scene of an explosion in Sarojini Nagar market, which was packed with shoppers buying gifts for major Hindu and Muslim festivals.
Indian police work at the scene of an explosion in Sarojini Nagar market, which was packed with shoppers buying gifts for major Hindu and Muslim festivals. (By Desmond Boylan -- Reuters)
By Muneeza Naqvi
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 30, 2005

NEW DELHI, Oct. 30 -- A series of bomb blasts on Saturday ripped through New Delhi marketplaces packed with shoppers buying gifts for major Hindu and Muslim festivals. More than 55 people were killed and scores were wounded, authorities said.

The first explosion took place in the densely packed Paharganj area of central Delhi, near the main train station and several cheap hotels that are popular with foreign backpackers. That blast was followed by one in the Sarojini Nagar market and another in the Govindpuri area. Some reports said the one in Govindpuri was a bus bomb.

Singed bits of clothing, slippers and sandals, and firecrackers for the festivals were strewn in the streets near the Sarojini Nagar market. Fire engines frantically doused flames at several nearby shops that had also caught fire.

"We have dragged out charred bodies from the burning shops with our own hands," said Praveen Chawla, who owns a shop in the market.

Indian officials declared a state of emergency and placed several cities, including New Delhi and Bombay, on high alert. In New Delhi, police officials urged residents to avoid crowded public places ahead of the upcoming religious holidays. On Tuesday, Hindus celebrate Diwali, or the festival of lights, and later in the week Muslims end their fasting month of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr.

No organization has asserted responsibility for the bombings, but officials have speculated that they were the work of terrorists.

"The government is determined to defeat the nefarious designs of terrorist elements," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement from the eastern city of Calcutta, the Press Trust of India reported.

Analysts told news agencies that the blasts were possibly linked to groups opposed to the peace process between India and its chief rival, Pakistan.

"It is very likely that the attacks were conducted by a terrorist group opposed to the peace process between India and Pakistan," Rohan Gunaratna, the head of research into terrorism at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told Agence-France Presse.

Immediately after the attacks, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued an unusually strong condemnation. "The attack in a crowded market place is a criminal act of terrorism," the ministry said in a statement.

India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars, began a peace process in January 2004. Despite improved relations in the past two years, the two countries have made few moves toward resolving their dispute over the region of Kashmir, which lies at the core of their rivalry. The province has been divided since shortly after India and Pakistan were founded in 1947, when each side claimed the region.

Both countries maintain considerable military forces on both sides of the Line of Control, the cease-fire line that has divided the Himalayan region for nearly six decades, although tension has been reduced significantly since 2003, when they were poised on the brink of war.

Early Sunday, Indian and Pakistani officials meeting in Islamabad agreed to open the Kashmiri border to speed help for victims of the Oct. 8 quake that killed more than 78,000 people in northern Pakistan and more than 1,300 in Indian Kashmir, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said.

The Associated Press reported that the two sides agreed to establish crossings at five points along the Line of Control.

Opening the border in Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim, is particularly sensitive for the government in India, which is predominantly Hindu. The country has been fighting a 16-year insurgency by Islamic militants who want Indian Kashmir to be independent or united with Pakistan.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company