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India Calls for Calm as Rail Bombings Kill at Least 190

After near-simultaneous explosions along a crowded commuter line, suspicion falls on Islamic extremists battling for Kashmir.

July 12, 2006|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

MUMBAI, India — With frightening precision, eight explosions struck a busy commuter railway in rapid succession Tuesday evening in this bustling port city, killing 190 people, injuring hundreds and turning the rush hour into a grisly tableau of carnage.

In what officials said was a well-coordinated terrorist attack on India's financial capital, the blasts went off within minutes of one another in trains and on platforms along the length of a north-south rail line carrying thousands of passengers to Mumbai's suburbs. The force of the explosions reduced some train cars to smoking heaps of metal, blew others apart, and strewed luggage and body parts along the tracks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, and authorities did not say whether the explosions were set off by remote control or suicide bombers.

Confusion reigned for hours as police officers and ambulances tried to reach the blast sites, hampered by the city's nightmarish traffic and the heavy rains of the monsoon season. Television footage showed victims trying to help one another or pressing cloths against their own bleeding wounds.

Police said 190 people were killed and more than 600 were injured, the Press Trust of India reported.

It was the most lethal attack on Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, since 1993, when bombs believed to have been planted by underworld figures ripped through various parts of the city, including its famous stock exchange, and killed more than 250 people.

The new spasm of violence was also the deadliest to hit India since a series of bombs went off in New Delhi in October, an attack blamed on separatists fighting to turn the disputed region of Kashmir into an independent Muslim state or a part of archrival Pakistan.

Suspicion immediately fell on such militant groups in connection with Tuesday's near-simultaneous explosions, a tactic favored by Kashmiri extremists.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the attack, calling it a "shameful act" of terrorism and summoning members of his Cabinet for an emergency meeting Tuesday evening.

President Bush sent "deepest condolences to the friends and families of the victims," saying such attacks "only strengthen the resolve of the international community to stand united against terrorism and to declare unequivocally that there is no justification for the vicious murder of innocent people."

Security was stepped up across Mumbai, and other major cities such as New Delhi and Bangalore were put on high alert.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters that the government had received information of a planned assault but that the "place and time was not known."

With rumors already swirling about the suspected involvement of Islamic militants in a country where religious tension often boils over into mob violence, Patil appealed to people to stay calm and refrain from jumping to conclusions.

"We will work to defeat the evil designs of terrorists and will not allow them to succeed," he said.

Pakistan, too, was quick to denounce the attack as "a despicable act of terrorism." India accuses the country of harboring, funding and arming the separatist groups in Kashmir, and peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have gone to war twice over their claims to the Himalayan territory, have made only incremental progress.

Hours before the Mumbai blasts, grenade attacks in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, killed eight Indian tourists.

It was not known whether the events there and in Mumbai were connected.

The first explosion in Mumbai struck about 6:20 p.m. on one of the city's key commuter railways, inaugurating a chain of blasts up and down the crowded line over the next quarter-hour.

A police official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said five of the bombs went off in the first-class compartments of trains and three exploded on platforms.

It appeared they were timed to inflict maximum damage during peak hours on a local rail network that serves an estimated 6 million people a day, mostly commuters heading in and out of the downtown financial center in the southern part of the city.

Witnesses described scenes of panic and gore: screaming passengers jumping out windows, severed limbs on the ground, clothes torn off scorched victims.

A deafening roar shook the car in which Shivali Bansal was riding, near the Borivili station.

"There was a blast in the next coach," Bansal told an Indian television station. "A shard came and hit my husband in the neck."

The able-bodied tried to pull the injured from the wreckage, in at least one case waiting more than an hour for emergency personnel to arrive. With so many casualties in so many places, resources were stretched thin.

Thousands of commuters were stranded, unable to find a way home or, because phones were jammed, even call their families to say they were a right. Steady rain compounded the misery.

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