Mumbai: Terrorists struck in Mumbai, India’s commercial hub, in three near-simultaneous explosions on Wednesday evening, the first such act of violence in the city after the November 2008 attacks in which 166 people died.
At least 21 people were killed in the blasts, according to the Union home ministry. The number of those injured in the rush-hour explosions was put at 141 as of late Wednesday.
The blasts indicated a “coordinated attack by terrorists”, Union home minister P. Chidambaram said in Delhi. The number of dead and injured may rise, he said.
A team from the National Investigation Agency, set up after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to investigate all terrorism-related cases, has been sent to the city to help the local police, the Union home ministry said.
“We are also sending a team of forensic experts to collect samples. A unit of the National Security Guard based in Mumbai is at the disposal of Mumbai police commissioner,” said U.K. Bansal, secretary (internal security) at the Union home ministry.
The blasts occurred a few days after Chidambaram said that there had been no terrorist attacks in the country in the last six months. A tribal group claimed responsibility for blowing up a portion of a railway track on Sunday in Assam, causing a train derailment that led to 100 people being hurt.
The Mumbai blasts came less than a week before US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is due to visit India.
The blasts were reported from areas in southern Mumbai—Zaveri Bazaar in Kalbadevi, Kabootarkhana in Dadar and Opera House. The nature and extent of the explosives could not be immediately determined by the police, who are also looking into the timing of the explosions.
The injured were taken to King Edward Memorial Hospital in Parel, Sion Hospital in Sion, and Bombay Hospital and GT Hospital in south Mumbai.
In the Dadar blast, explosives were planted at an electric meter, said Madhukar Sankhe, superintendent of police, Dadar.
No terror group had claimed responsibility for the blast as of press time.
India has remained jittery about the threat of militant strikes, especially since the 2008 attacks that raised tensions with arch rival Pakistan.
New Delhi says Pakistan-based groups aid and train militants to carry out attacks against India, a claim Islamabad rejects.
“The blast occurred at about 6.45 pm within minutes of each other. Therefore, we infer that this was a coordinated attack by terrorists,” Chidambaram told reporters.
US President Barack Obama strongly condemned the attacks and offered support to bring the perpetrators to justice. Pakistan’s president and prime minister condemned the attack. “President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the government and the people of Pakistan, have condemned the blasts in Mumbai and expressed distress on the loss of lives and injuries,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement, AFP reported.
Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik said the blasts at Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar were of a higher intensity than the one at Dadar.
He said the NSG hub in Mumbai has been put on standby and that the elite force’s ‘post-blast´ team has also been sent to the financial capital of the country.
The Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) team from both here and Hyderabad has been sent to Mumbai, he said.
An NIA team led by an IG rank officer will also leave for Mumbai, he said.
Two teams of CFSL from Delhi and Hyderabad have been rushed to Mumbai where NSG and NIA personnel are assisting the local police in investigations.
“This tactic is much more in line with those used by more amateurish groups such as the Indian Mujahideen who have targeted crowded urban areas before,” Stratfor, a strategic affair think tank, said in a statement.
The explosions struck this metropolis two days after the fifth anniversary of the serial train blasts here that had left 186 dead and 800 injured.
While the blast in Zaveri Bazaar was triggered through explosives planted in an umbrella, the one in Dadar West was caused by an explosive device concealed in a meter box of the electric cabinet of a BEST bus stop. Preliminary reports said that the explosives were kept inside a Maruti Esteem in the Dadar blast. Police late Wednesday night said the blast at Dadar was of low intensity.
The umbrella was apparently used to camouflage the explosive during the downpour being witnessed in the city, in the bustling Khau Gali in Zaveri Bazaar, according to police commissioner Arup Patnaik.
The scene of the blast in Dadar is less than a kilometre from the headquarters of hardline saffron outfit Shiv Sena.
There was no immediate indication any Pakistan group was involved. But any suggestion of attributing blame to Islamabad would complicate a fraught relationship with India and further unravel ties with the United States which has withheld some military aid to Pakistan to pressure it to buckle down in the war on terror.
The city has been put on a high alert with pickets erected at several places, city police commissioner Arup Patnaik said.
Impacts on markets
There is unlikely to be any impact on markets on Thursday, according to brokerages and fund managers. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Bajaj Auto Ltd, two Sensex firms, will announce quarterly earnings on Thursday. Markets will open as usual on Thursday, Bloomberg said, citing stock exchange officials.
“There will be nervousness only if any outlawed group claims responsibility,” said Arun Kejriwal, director of research firm Kejriwal Research and Investment Services Pvt. Ltd.
Historically, markets have either remained flat or recorded marginal gains on days following such blasts in Mumbai. Since 1993, there have been 13 terror attacks in Mumbai.
As per the ministry of home affairs press release
“There may be a small sentimental impact, but it cannot affect business in any way,” said Motilal Oswal, chairman and managing director of Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd.
Ajay Parmar, head of institutional equities at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd, said there may be some short-term impact, but nothing long-term.
Saurabh Mukherjea, head of equities at Ambit Capital Pvt. Ltd, said terrorism had become an unfortunate feature of the global investment landscape in the last decade and investors across the world have learnt to live with it. “I wouldn’t expect a knee-jerk reaction from Indian investors to this latest outrage,” he added.
Home-grown militant groups such as the Indian Mujahideen are also active in the country and have in the past few years carried out attacks in large cities. “The immediate suspicion is on (the) Indian Mujahideen. But it would be premature to draw any conclusion,” said a senior intelligence officer.
Soon after the blasts, Union home secretary R.K. Singh, who took charge from G.K. Pillai 10 days ago, spoke to the Maharashtra police chief to take stock of the situation. As is usual in such instances, the Union home ministry has put all the metropolitan cities on high alert and has asked states to take precautionary measures. Security has been tightened in Delhi.
The Wednesday blasts came almost five years to the day after seven bombs on Mumbai’s trains killed more than 200 people and injured 700.
PTI, AFP and Bloomberg contributed to this story.