Bombs in taxis kill 45 in India


BOMBAY, India - Two powerful bombs concealed in parked taxis exploded yesterday in the heart of Bombay, India's commercial capital, killing 45 people and wounding at least 135.

The blasts occurred minutes apart, the first in a packed shopping district, the second next to the city's favorite gathering place, the Gateway of India, a colonial relic whose massive arch has become an indelible image of this metropolis.

No group or individual had claimed responsibility for the blasts as of late afternoon, and it was unclear how the bombs were detonated.

Suburban Bombay, whose official name is now Mumbai, has been the site of five other explosions - two on buses, two at markets and one on a train - in the past eight months that have killed a total of 15 people. The most recent attack was in July.

Officials have blamed the Students Islamic Movement of India for the attacks, saying the group operated in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Islamic militant faction Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Both groups are banned in India.

The Bombay police commissioner, R.S. Sharma, said last night that law enforcement authorities suspect that the groups are also responsible for yesterday's blasts, although he offered no specific evidence for that assertion.

The bombings come during a period of an easing of hostility between India and Pakistan, which has enabled the two countries to take small steps toward rapprochement in recent months. For now, the blasts seem to have done nothing to undermine that.

Indian officials, who have often blamed Pakistan for terrorist acts in India, did not do so after yesterday's incidents, and Pakistan condemned the bombings as "acts of terrorism."

For many Bombay residents, the explosions brought back horrific memories of similar blasts in 1993, when 13 bombs exploded at the Bombay Stock Exchange and elsewhere, killing more than 260 people and wounding more than 700.

Investigators have concluded that those bombings were carried out by Muslim underworld operatives seeking revenge for communal riots that followed the demolition of a 16th-century mosque by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

Security forces went on the alert yesterday in Bombay, New Delhi, Gujarat and other areas, but there were no reports of further violence last night.

The first bomb blew up at 1:05 p.m. yesterday in one of the city's trademark yellow-and-black taxis, which was parked at an intersection in the Mumba Devi neighborhood. It is in a shopping area usually so packed with people that cars can barely move, near a major temple and in the midst of a popular jewelry market, the Zaveri Bazaar.

At least two dozen people were killed and scores injured. The bomb reduced the taxi to a charred wreck and shredded the front of the building where the taxi was parked. The area was strewn with debris - pineapples, oranges, limes and a counter from the juice shop next to the taxi.

Lal Sahab Singh, a taxi driver whose white clothes were spotted with blood, was yards away when the bomb exploded. The passengers he had just dropped off simply disappeared, he said. A thigh landed on his luggage carrier. He said he saw as many as 50 wounded people around him, and he and others grabbed handcarts to help move the injured.

Lalit Jain, a metal trader who rushed to the scene, said he saw the upper body of a teen-age girl. About 20 yards away, Babu Lal Khimraji, 60, a jeweler, saw what appeared to be the lower half.

"This is definitely a terrorist attack like 1993," Khimraji said. "This time the terrorists used taxis, and last time they used scooters."

He added, "If the police would have acted efficiently, this would not have taken place."

Most neighborhood residents are Hindus, but there is a substantial Muslim population, and at least 30 percent of the wounded were Muslims. Many of the jewelers in the area are Hindus originally from the state of Gujarat, prompting immediate speculation that the bombing was carried out in retaliation for riots in that state last year that left about 1,000 Muslims dead.

The second bomb went off five minutes after the first, in a small parking lot next to the basalt Gateway of India, which is set in a historic fort area. The area, which juts into the harbor, was thronged, as it always is, with tourists and beggars, flower sellers and pigeon feeders, astrologers and photographers.

The bomb was in a yellow-and-black Fiat taxi that witnesses said had been parked there since morning, and the explosion was so powerful that it sent bodies flying into the Arabian Sea. An hour later, dinghies and divers bobbed in the water looking for remains or clues to the identities of the dead and wounded.

The Gateway is across the street from one of the country's top hotels, the century-old Taj Mahal, where windows shattered up to the 12th floor. Taxis that usually line up and wait for foreign tourists instead transported the wounded to hospitals.

Area hospitals went on what one official called "war footing," as ward after ward filled with bloodied victims, most of them males, ranging in age from 4 to 70.

At J.J. Hospital, about 200 people, Hindu and Muslim alike, lined up to donate blood.

"This is a crime against humanity," said Afzal Lodhia, a 31-year-old man who works at the jewelry market. "They are killing Muslims, they are killing Hindus."

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