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India Blames Pakistan for Deadly Blasts

Top official also points to Islamic radical groups. The suspects sought include several women and a child. Eight people are held.

August 27, 2003|Shankhadeep Choudhury | Times Staff Writer

BOMBAY, India — A top Indian official suggested Tuesday that neighboring Pakistan was involved in bombings that ripped through Bombay this week, as police searched for teams of terrorists that allegedly included several women who rented taxis used in the attacks that killed at least 50 people.

Authorities were hunting for a man, woman and child who had hired one of the cabs for two days of sightseeing, then slipped away from the historic Gateway of India monument minutes before the vehicle exploded. Police also were tracking two women and a man who reportedly had hired a taxi that exploded at the city's main jewelry hub. That blast took place 15 minutes before the one at the landmark monument.

The bombings Monday at the Gateway landmark and the Zaveri Bazaar injured more than 150.

Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani on Tuesday blamed Pakistan and the militant Muslim group Lashkar-e-Taiba, saying the blasts were aimed at undermining India.

The two countries have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the divided Kashmir region.

"I would say that our neighbor's war of terrorism against us is directed not only in Jammu and Kashmir, as the worldwide impression has it," Advani said during a tour of the damage here. "There is an attempt to destabilize the whole of India."

Although local officials were quick to suggest on Monday that Pakistan was involved in the attack, national leaders had been cautious initially about blaming their neighbor.

Officials also blamed the Student Islamic Movement of India, which, along with Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been banned in this mostly Hindu country for attacks in support of Kashmir's independence.

The apparent involvement of women and a child in the terrorism worried local police.

"This may be a good ploy to avoid suspicion and cross police checkposts with ease," said Himanshu Roy, deputy commissioner of police in Bombay. "It is a known fact that we usually are easy on cars carrying families."

Police detained at least eight people for interrogation. Their identities were not disclosed.

"Revealing who they are will hamper investigations at this stage," Roy said. "However, we are going to release sketches of suspects -- which include women -- by tomorrow."

Pieces of the pulverized taxis were sent for forensic analysis.

"These were high explosives, no doubt. But it will take a couple of days to figure out what exactly it was," Roy said. "As of now, the shrapnel and various other kinds of chemicals released during the blast are being examined."

Both cabs were powered by compressed natural gas contained in cylinders within the vehicles' trunks, which intensified the detonations, police say. Authorities believe that the assailants chose the taxis with that in mind.

Cabbie Shiv Narayan Pandey, who had strolled away from his vehicle at the Gateway and survived the blast, told police that a couple with a young girl had hired his vehicle in suburban Andheri for a two-day tour of Bombay.

"They had loaded a bag into the [trunk] of the car," he said. "After reaching Gateway of India, the couple alighted from the taxi with the child. They said they would come back after shopping and lunching in the vicinity. I too stepped out to have a bite."

The seaside Gateway of India, one of the nation's leading landmarks, commemorates a 1911 visit by Britain's King George V.

The Zaveri Bazaar taxi driver, identified only as Ramesh, was killed in the explosion that destroyed his vehicle shortly after his three passengers alighted at the taxi stand.

Local hospitals Tuesday continued to treat scores of people injured in the blasts. Mohammed Afzal, 19, a shoe store salesman, had stepped out for lunch when the blast occurred at Zaveri Bazaar. "I have a deep cut in my leg," he said. "Glass splinters pierced me. Even now, I cannot hear properly ... so deafening was the explosion."

But vendors were back at work at the sites of the attacks. Ice cream seller Ashok Kurwat said his day's income had been cut by half. "But then, life goes on," he said, sitting near the mangled wreck of a car damaged in the Gateway blast. "I am sure nobody can change destiny."

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