MUMBAI, India (AP) — No terror group has claimed responsibility for the triple bombings that killed 17 people in India’s financial capital, and investigators had no immediate suspects in the attacks that came without warning, the country’s top security official said Thursday.
Angry residents of Mumbai blamed the government for an apparent intelligence breakdown that left the city vulnerable, but Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the latest attack did not represent a failure of the country’s anti-terror network.
“Whoever has perpetrated this attack has worked in a very, very clandestine manner,” Chidambaram said at a news conference after an emergency security meeting.
The bombings shook three separate neighborhoods within minutes during Wednesday’s busy evening rush and were the country’s worst terror strike since the siege of Mumbai that killed 166 people nearly three years ago. After that, India enacted sweeping security reforms and has avoided another major attack in the nearly three years since.
That did little to reassure residents who questioned how the attack could happen despite massive security measures taken in recent years.
“After the 2008 blast and all the media hype (about safety), we thought we were safe,” said Anita Ramaswami, a 33-year-old accountant. “But things still are the same and people in Mumbai continue to feel vulnerable.”
Top Indian officials said the government may never be able to guarantee a terror-free nation in a region so plagued by extremist groups.
“We live in the most troubled neighborhood in the world. Pakistan-Afghanistan is the epicenter of terror … every part of India is vulnerable,” Chidambaram said.
“It’s very difficult to stop every single terror attack,” agreed Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of the ruling Congress Party. “The steps taken by our government over the last couple of years are quite profound steps.”
News reports said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was expected to visit Mumbai later Thursday evening.
Indian officials have refused to speculate on who might be behind the attack.
“We are not pointing a finger at this stage,” Chidambaram said. “We have to look at every possible hostile group and find out whether they are behind the blast.”
Indian officials have accused Pakistan’s powerful spy agency of helping to coordinate and fund earlier attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai siege. Peace talks between the countries were suspended after that attack and resumed only recently.
Chidambaram did not rule out that the blasts might have been aimed at derailing a new round of peace talks still expected to start in a few days.
The Hindu nationalist opposition called Pakistan the hotbed of terror in the region, called for its spy agency to be declared a terror outfit and criticized the Indian government for not dealing more sternly with Islamabad.
“The government of India must shed its ambivalent attitude to terrorism. The total policy of India toward terrorism should be of zero tolerance,” said L.K. Advani, a senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. “Our message to Pakistan should be that you must dismantle the infrastructure for terrorism that you have created.”
Soon after the blasts, Pakistan’s government expressed distress about the loss of lives and injuries.
A steady drizzle Thursday washed away bloodstains and threatened evidence at the scenes of the bombings, which ripped off storefronts, shredded a bus stop and left bodies strewn in the dirt of Mumbai’s crowded neighborhoods and market. Investigators covered the blast sites with plastic sheets to protect the evidence.
Investigators were viewing closed circuit television footage and speaking to wounded witnesses to try and put together a picture of what happened at each location, Rakesh Maria, the head of Mumbai’s Anti-Terror Squad, told reporters.
The bomb in the Dadar area in central Mumbai was placed on a bus shelter; in the Opera House business district in southern Mumbai it was hidden under some garbage on the road; in the Jhaveri Bazaar jewelry market a few miles (kilometers) away it was hidden under an umbrella, near a motorcycle, officials said.
All three were improvised explosive devices made of ammonium nitrate with electric detonators, authorities said.
“The IEDs were not crude and showed some amount of sophistication and training,” said R.K. Singh, India’s home secretary.
Surveillance cameras were in place at all three blast sites, Chidambaram said, but he did not reveal if any information was gleaned from them.
Meanwhile, families raced to find word about their relatives.
One man described hunting for information about his brother, who was in the jewelry market when the bomb went off.
“We are in that market every day from morning to night,” he told NDTV news channel, as he held back tears. “We went from hospital to hospital and finally found his body in the morgue.”
Kaushik Adhikari, 18, said his father, a goldsmith, was wounded in the same blast.
“He was hit by a shrapnel in the stomach and operated on. Doctors say he is stable,” he said. “This has come as a big shock. We realize how uncertain life has become.”
Press Trust of India reported the federal government had announced families of those killed in the blasts would be compensated 200,000 rupees ($4,500). The local government announced a compensation of 500,000 rupees ($11,200).
Chidambaram lowered the casualty toll to 17 confirmed deaths. He said a severed head was found that could be an 18th casualty. He did not explain the discrepancy from an earlier government statement that listed 21 deaths. Additionally, 131 were injured, 23 of them seriously.
The blasts marked the first major attack on Mumbai since 10 militants laid siege to the city for 60 hours in November 2008. That attack targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station.
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