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India probes 'terror' blasts that kill 17 in Mumbai

14 july 2011, 14:01
©REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
©REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
©REUTERS/Stringer India
©REUTERS/Stringer India
©REUTERS/Stringer India
©REUTERS/Stringer India
Indian investigators Thursday probed triple bomb blasts that killed 17 people in Mumbai, the nation's commercial capital which is still emerging from the shadows of the deadly 2008 militant attacks, AFP reports.

The strongest of the coordinated explosions hit busy districts in the south of the city, the same area targeted two and half years ago by Pakistan-based gunmen who caused mayhem with a 60-hour siege that left 166 people dead.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who arrived at the scene hours after Wednesday night's attack along with forensic experts and anti-terror commandos from New Delhi, told reporters it was "a coordinated attack by terrorists".

No Kazakhstan citizens were hurt during the blasts in the centre of Mumbai, Tengrinews.kz reports, citing Rashid Rakhimbekov, Kazakhstan Consul in India. “The citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan were not hurt. They haven’t even heard the blasts and said that everything was quiet and safe,” – he said.

The most powerful devices exploded at a wholesale gold market and a district housing diamond traders and jewellery shops in southern Mumbai, while a third blast occurred in a middle-class area to the north.

"It is another attack on the heart of India," said the chief minister of Maharashtra state, Prithviraj Chavan, who described it as a "challenge to Indian sovereignty". It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks.

The government revised the death toll down from 21 to 17 on Thursday morning, and said that 133 people were injured.

Authorities said forensic teams from New Delhi and Pune, a city 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Mumbai, had collected samples from the scene. Police were also hoping closed-circuit television footage would provide clues.

The United States and the United Nations led international condemnation of the blasts, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling them "despicable" and vowing to visit India next week as planned.

Clinton said the blasts were "designed to provoke fear and division" and added: "Those who perpetrated them must know they cannot succeed."

All three bombs, which chief minister Chavan said had been detonated with timers, were reported within a 15-minute period, starting at around 6:50pm (1320 GMT).

Among the dead was real estate agent R.K. Shah, 47, whose wife identified his body at Saifee hospital.

"He was scheduled to show two shops for rent to his clients," Pratika Shah told AFP. "Before leaving home, he had told me that he would host a big party for his friends if the deals materialised.

"Now, he is no more. I am here to collect his body. This cannot happen to us."

Fashion photographer Rutavi Metha heard a "massive" explosion and ran towards the site of the bomb in the gold market area known as Zaveri Bazaar.

"There were bodies on the ground and a lot of blood. Local people were trying to help, picking up the injured and putting them in cars to drive them to hospital," she said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and appealed for calm.

No group claimed responsibility, though suspicions initially fell on two Islamist groups that have targeted India in the past: the home-grown Indian Mujahideen and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

In November 2008, 10 militants from the LeT attacked multiple targets in Mumbai, including five-star hotels, in an assault known as "26/11" in India and often compared here to the September 11 attacks on the United States.

A statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry deplored Wednesday's attacks and said President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had "expressed their deepest sympathies to the Indian leadership".

Eyewitnesses outside a diamond trader building in south Mumbai said a bomb had exploded when the area was packed with office workers heading home.

Sandals were abandoned among the muddy puddles and potholes overflowing with steady monsoon rain; roadside food stalls were overturned in the gutter and the mangled remains of a car stood with its doors hanging off.

The last major bombing in India was in February last year in Pune, when a blast at a packed restaurant killed 16 people including several foreigners.

In 2006, a series of seven high-powered blasts on suburban trains in Mumbai killed 187 commuters and left 800 injured -- an attack that India also blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

India broke off a peace dialogue with Pakistan after the 2008 assaults, blaming Islamabad for failing to crack down on the LeT. Talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals only resumed earlier this year.

The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in New Delhi in the last week of July.

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