Controlled Blasts Kill at Least 22 At Busy Markets in New Delhi

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 14, 2008

NEW DELHI, Sept. 13 -- Five small bombs ripped through several crowded markets in the span of 25 minutes Saturday in the Indian capital, killing at least 22 people and injuring more than 90.

The bombs were placed in trash cans and on bicycles in a downtown park and bazaars teeming with weekend shoppers. The attack was the 12th in India since October 2005.

"Whoever has done this, they are enemies of humanity and enemies of India," said Home Affairs Minister Shivraj Patil, who appealed for calm. "They want to destroy peace in our society. . . . We will take the toughest action against them."

A little-known group, the Indian Mujahideen, asserted responsibility for the attack in an e-mail sent to several media offices.

"Within five minutes from now . . . this time with the Message of Death, dreadfully terrorizing you for your sins," the e-mail said. "And thus our promise will be fulfilled, Inshallah." The message also challenged security agencies, saying, "Do whatever you want and stop us if you can."

The e-mail, which police have traced to a Mumbai suburb, warned that there would be nine blasts in the city. Bomb disposal teams defused four bombs planted in various parts of downtown.

The Indian Mujahideen sent similar e-mails to news organizations and police departments ahead of bombings in the cities of Jaipur, where more than 83 people were killed in May, and Ahmedabad, where 56 people were killed in July.

An intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that very little is known about the group but that it appeared to be an umbrella organization for various shadowy radical groups that have sprung up in the past decade.

Many officials say a group called the Students Islamic Movement of India, which was banned in 2001, is behind much of the violence. Some say the Indian Mujahideen is another name for the group.

Several big cities were put on a security alert Saturday, and the capital's new Metro rail service was shut down. Police jammed cellphone service across the city for several hours and evacuated all busy markets. At the bomb sites, they pushed back curious onlookers to allow investigators to examine evidence.

A 12-year-old balloon seller named Rahul told reporters that he had seen two suspicious-looking men dump a small packet into a trash can in the downtown district. A few minutes later, the trash can exploded, he said.

The first blast occurred about 6:15 p.m. near a car in an electronics market in the western part of the capital. Within minutes, three more bombs went off in the downtown business district, including one in a park above a Metro station. About 6:30 p.m., another blast struck an upscale market in the southern part of the city.

"I was outside my shop sipping my tea, and suddenly I heard the blast somewhere near the car, and I dropped my cup," said Avinash Mishra, 21, a salesman at a Levi's store. With trembling hands, Mishra pointed to a row of cars as he removed pieces of glass stuck in his shoe. The street was carpeted with shards of glass from shattered car windows and fancy shop facades.

"Everyone was running here and there," he said. "People started rushing out of shops crying. Women were holding onto children."

About five minutes later, another bomb went off in front of a popular cigarette and betel-leaves shop.

"The people didn't know where to run. They thought bombs were going to explode from all four corners," Mishra said.

Most of the recent attacks have remained unsolved, as politicians accuse one another of targeting or protecting the country's Muslim minority.

Ten days ago, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, where Ahmedabad is located, accused the national government of appeasing Muslims by refusing to pass a tougher law to combat terrorism.

"I experience helplessness without an anti-terrorism law," Modi, from the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party, said at a news conference in New Delhi.

"A strict law can prevent sons of good families from venturing into violence. During interrogation sessions with the suspects, we have learnt that the Indian Mujahideen has set up networks in nine Indian states. That is a grave danger," Modi said.

A witness to one of the blasts Saturday said the government lacks the will to punish the guilty. "The government is too soft on terrorists," O.P. Shardam, a local official, told reporters at one of the bomb sites. "They are not in control. People keep losing lives and shedding tears. And the government keeps issuing statements."

Correspondent Emily Wax in Kolkata, India, contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company