Indian officials called an emergency security meeting today to investigate three co-ordinated bombings that killed at least 21 people in the country’s financial capital in the worst terrorist attack since the 2008 Mumbai siege.
A steady drizzle this morning washed away bloodstains and threatened evidence at the site of the attack yesterday evening, which ripped off storefronts, shredded a bus stop and left bloody bodies strewn in the dirt of Mumbai’s crowded neighbourhoods and market.
Shell-shocked residents lambasted the government for failing to detect the plot, despite massive security measures taken after the attacks three years ago that New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
No one has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attacks, which came just months after peace talks resumed between India and Pakistan. Indian officials have so far refused to speculate on who might be behind the blasts.
Arup Patnaik, a top police officer, said the attackers used improvised explosive devices in the attack, hidden in an umbrella in the Jhaveri Bazaar jewellery market and kept in a car in the business district of Opera House.
The third blast in Dadar area was caused by an explosive device concealed in an electric meter at a bus stop, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and appealed to the people of Mumbai “to remain calm and show a united face”.
The bombings began with an explosion that ripped through the famed Jhaveri Bazaar jewellery market at 6.54pm. A minute later, a blast hit the busy business district of Opera House, several miles away in southern Mumbai. At 7.05pm, the third bomb exploded in the crowded neighbourhood of Dadar in central Mumbai, according to police.
Because of the close timing of the blasts, “we infer that this was a coordinated attack by terrorists”, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in New Delhi.
Mr Chidambaram later flew to Mumbai and visited the blast sites as forensic experts collected the evidence. Their task was hampered by a steady drizzle overnight washing away blood stains and other marks.
Investigators covered the blast sites with plastic sheets to protect the evidence left by the explosions, police officer Shailesh Kadam said.
Mr Chidamabaram is scheduled to hold a security review meeting with the intelligence chief and top police officers in Mumbai later today.
The government said the blasts killed 21 people and wounded 141 others.
As day broke today, Mumbai began to return to normal life, with children holding umbrellas walking to their schools. Milk suppliers and vegetable vendors made rounds of the areas as municipal workers swept the streets.
Police and fire officers removed two dozen scooters and motorcycles from the jewellery market that were overturned and damaged by the impact of the powerful explosion.
Several people blamed complacency in the government for the attacks.
“After the 2008 blast and all the media hype (about safety) we thought we were safe. But things still are the same and people in Mumbai continue to feel vulnerable,” said Anita Ramaswami, a 33-year-old accountant.
However, Ms Ramaswami was not sure what the government should do.
Kumaresh Darde, another local resident, said police should go after criminal gangs, saying: “Terror groups and the underworld may be working together.”
Pakistan’s government expressed distress about the loss of lives and injuries soon after yesterday’s blasts were reported.
Indian officials have accused Pakistan’s powerful spy agency of helping co-ordinate and fund earlier attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai siege, which killed 166 people over three days. Peace talks between the countries were suspended after the siege and resumed only recently.
President Barack Obama also condemned the “outrageous attacks”.