Mumbai blasts: Angry residents demand answers on security(VIDEO)

Three bomb blasts hit the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai, a city that still has sharp memory of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Many residents want to know how it could happen again.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
A policeman kept guard in the rain at the site of an explosion near the Opera House in Mumbai on July 14. Indian police searched for clues on Thursday about who was behind three coordinated bomb blasts that killed at least 17 people in Mumbai, the biggest attack since Pakistani-based militants rampaged through the financial hub in 2008.

For a city usually hailed as resilient and stoic, Mumbai today is seething with anger following the latest bomb attacks that many say have exposed a lack of security there.

As investigators sift through the wreckage at three sites looking for clues, residents are demanding to know why they are still at risk, despite assurances that security measures and coordination would be stepped up after the last Mumbai bombings in November 2008. But with little evidence of an actual intelligence failure, and with a divided opposition, India's Congress-led government is unlikely to suffer any dramatic political repercussions.

During yesterday's evening rush hour, bombs exploded in three locations in the crowded, often chaotic city: in the upscale southern Opera House district, in the crowded Zaveri Bazaar market, and near a busy transport hub in the suburb of West Dadar, a few miles north of the city center. At least 17 people were killed, and another 131 injured, 23 of them critically.

"There won't be any candlelight vigils this time," says journalist and Mumbai resident Joeanna Rebello. "Everybody wants action."

The morning newspaper headlines read, "Yet Again," and "Attacked. Again," and "We're All Sitting Ducks."

On Twitter, Mumbai residents quickly mobilized to offer transport help and provide instant updates, at the same time venting their frustration that another attack has occurred.

"In situations like yesterday, Mumbai seems to ignore the first four stages of grief and makes a beeline straight for acceptance," wrote blogger Suma Nagaraj. "But does it make up for the injustice that's meted out to Mumbai over and over again?"

Megha Deokule, a caterer who lives in a suburb neighboring Dadar says, "There's no point getting angry, this keeps happening all the time." She adds, "but nobody wants this." Still, observers say that until it becomes clear who is responsible for the attacks, significant action may be slow in coming.

Intelligence failure?

India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram insisted that the bomb blasts couldn't be described as an intelligence failure because, he argued, Mumbai's police had kept the city safe since the 2008 attacks. "Whoever planned this attack worked in a very, very clandestine manner," he told reporters at a televised press conference.

"There was no intelligence regarding a militant attack in Mumbai," he admitted and expressed his regrets. A general intelligence warning had been issued for the state three days earlier, though it was not a specific one. "Maybe those who perpetrated the attacks worked in a very clandestine manner, maybe a very small group that has not communicated with each other," he said.

Indian Mujahideen?

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Siddharth Ramana of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank, says the event has all the hallmarks of homegrown militant group Indian Mujahideen. The group believed to have close ties to the Students Islamic Movement (SMI) of India, has been labeled a "terrorist" group by India, but unlike SMI, has not been banned.

"Ammonium nitrate was used in this blast as with previous blasts in Jaipur and Delhi, both of which the IM claimed responsibility for," Mr. Ramana points out.

Not only does the Indian Mujahideen have experience with similar attacks, it has motive, according to Ramana. In 2002 inter-religious riots in the northwestern state of Gujarat, around 2,000 Muslims were killed by militant Hindus. The group has indicated it seeks revenge for that.

Zaveri Bazaar is full of Gujarati diamond traders, and local media reports say yesterday's bomb there had been placed between two shops owned by Gujaratis – one Hindu, one Muslim. Though it's not clear how many of those injured in the blasts were Hindu and how many were Muslim, Ramana says the focus would have been on attacking Gujarat, so thought was likely given most to placing the bomb in an area densely populated with Gujaratis.

"Terrorists don't look in terms of mitigating the Muslim death toll, they want to make a statement about attacking Gujarat," he says.

The Indian Mujahideen suffered a number of setbacks following their last attack, in Delhi in 2008. "They're not taking responsibility this time, so they don't fall into the trap of being easily identified. For the time being, they want to lie low," says Ramana, who believes this bombing was an indicator of a comeback.

What about Pakistan?

The possibility that the blasts were intended to derail talks between India and Pakistan later this month has been floated in the media repeatedly, but officials have avoided acknowledging any suspicions they may have of a connection. The Indian government has confirmed the talks will still go ahead, as will US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to India next week.

Mumbai, one of the world's most densely populated cities, has a history of deadly bombings. In November 2008, Pakistani-trained militants attacked two hotels, the main railway station and a Jewish center, killing 166 people.

In 2006, coordinated blasts on suburban trains killed 209 people. And three years earlier a bomb near the Gateway of India killed 52.

US President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon both condemned the attacks, while Pakistan's leaders released a statement offering expressing their sympathies.

"We don't want to live in a flawed city, in this constant state of anxiety," says Ms. Rebello of Mumbai. "We will have to get on with our lives. That doesn't mean we have to be less wary. It's not a healthy way to live."

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