India train blasts echo Madrid attacks
The timing, just ahead of the G-8 summit, also draws parallels with last year's London bombings.
PUNE, INDIA — A series of at least seven explosions rocked the commuter rail network in Bombay (Mumbai) during Tuesday's evening rush hour, killing at least 147 people and injuring 400, officials said.
Confusion erupted throughout Bombay's crowded rail network following the explosions. Indian TV broadcast footage of bystanders carrying victims to ambulances and searching through the wreckage for survivors and bodies.
The force of the high-powered blasts ripped doors and windows off carriages, and luggage and debris were strewn about. Survivors were seen clutching bandages to their heads and faces.
"We are busy in the rescue operation. Our first priority is to rescue the injured people," he said. However, heavy monsoon downpours were hampering the effort.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an emergency Cabinet meeting, and said that "terrorists" were behind the attacks. Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters that authorities had "some" information an attack was coming, "but place and time was not known."
Bombay police are calling the explosions "a well-coordinated attack," and the quick succession of bombs in crowded rush hour trains echoes the strike on Madrid's train system in 2004 that killed 191 people. And the timing of the Mumbai attack, just days before the G-8 summit of leading economic powers, parallels the London subway bombings which occurred on the day of last year's G-8 meeting.
Analysts say that these similarities, as well as the sophistication of the Mumbai attack, suggests ties to international Islamic terror groups, perhaps working through a local militant outfit.
"[The attack was] well planned, orchestrated, simultaneous [and was] designed to inflict maximum loss of life. It's probably the handiwork of a well-equipped, well-funded, terrorist group that hews to the Al Qaeda school of thought," says Sajjan Gohel. "In the region, only Lashkar-e-Tayyaba has such capabilities."
Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), one of more than a dozen Islamic rebel groups fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989, has been blamed by police for a number of past attacks on Indian soil, including a set of bombings in Bombay in 2003 that left 44 dead. In past years, police have uncovered a cell tied to LeT in the Bombay suburb of Thane. The group is the most sophisticated of the militant outfits fighting to wrest Kashmir from India, and it is accused of having ties to Pakistan as well as funding from outside.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday condemning the attacks.
"Pakistan strongly condemns the series of bomb blasts on commuter trains," the ministry said in a statement. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf offered condolences over the loss of life, the statement said, adding "terrorism is a bane of our times and it must be condemned, rejected and countered effectively and comprehensively."
The train attacks followed an uptick in violence in Kashmir in which a series of grenade attacks by Islamic extremists killed eight people. Some initial reports speculated that the two incidents were connected, but some analysts expressed doubts that the Bombay attack was related.
"The attacks in Kashmir today were not as sophisticated - handgrenades were lobbed. Mumbai, was well planned," says Mr. Gohel.
However, the Home Ministry of India issued a statement saying that although the anatomy of the blasts in Srinagar and Bombay are very different, they do appear to be linked as they were planned for the same day.
Following the blasts, all of India's major cities went on high alert. How the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responds may depend on how quickly investigators can determine who was behind the attacks, as well as the government's sense of its own political standing.
In recent weeks, the Singh administration has faced criticism from politicians in its leading coalition member, the Congress Party, for failing to achieve many of its major initiatives. Last week, Mr. Singh announced a halt to all sales of state-owned companies, dealing a setback to India's economic reforms. A sudden shift of focus to external security threats would change the debate.
After a December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament building, the government at the time reacted by mobilizing up to a million troops along its border with Pakistan. The buildup led to nuclear saber-rattling between the two nations, prompting some Western nations to order the evacuation of their embassy staffs.
Since then, relations between the nuclear siblings have improved markedly. The two countries have embarked on confidence building measures such as the establishment of train and bus links. And the relationship has steadied into a continual stream of low-level meetings over small issues.
In the meantime, India's commercial hub is scrambling to reconnect its commuter networks.
"Mumbai's local trains – Mumbai's lifeline has been terribly hit," says Police Commissioner A.N. Roy, who has faced criticism in the past from citizens for the lack of visual security apparatus on train stations and bus stations. "Although the routes where explosions took place have been shut down, local trains on other routes are working. The frequency of buses has been increased to help out locals."
• Wire material was used in this report. Staff writer Scott Baldauf contributed from New Delhi.