Tuesday, Aug 26, 2003
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By Mahesh Vijapurkar
Vehicles reduced to scrap at the Gateway of India following a blast in Mumbai on Monday. -- Photo: Paul Noronha
The first of the two blasts, several kilometres apart, which shattered peace in the vibrant city, took place at 1.03 p.m. in the crowded Jhaveri Bazar, close to the temple of Mumbadevi, the city's presiding deity. The second, four minutes later, occurred in a pay-and-park facility close to the famed Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. Several of the injured are reported critical.
Police are unwilling to say which organisation could have triggered the blasts. The city Police Commissioner, R. S. Sharma, said it could be "a jehadi group", possibly the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which "have several modules in the city and around". "We have worked on this suspicion before and even now, we suspect them but it is too early to pinpoint who (is responsible for the blasts)." No organisation has claimed responsibility for the explosions. Today's blasts were the seventh in a series of explosions that have rocked the city since December 2, 2002.
Police said the explosives were placed in the boot of two parked taxis and it is not yet known if the blasts were set off by pre-set timers or by a remote-controlled trigger. What the explosives were semtex, RDX or any other combination are not immediately known. Police said "one has to wait for the forensic experts to decide". The explosions were so powerful, eyewitnesses at the Gateway of India said, that the taxi "flew some 40 feet into the air before landing in a heap of twisted metal". Part of the CNG (compressed natural gas) cylinder in the taxi flew over several buildings, each at least five storeys high, in a huge arc and landed about 400 metres away.
At Jhaveri Bazaar, the taxi driver, along with a passenger was apparently inside the vehicle when it exploded. Both are presumed killed. The official version is that a "metal badge" of a taxi driver was found, but it is possible that it could be that of a driver of either of two other taxis parked close to the one that exploded. Their fate is not known.
The driver of the taxi which exploded between the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel had left the place after parking the vehicle as his passenger had told him to wait there, as he would be busy for some two hours. Police have taken the driver, whose identity has not been disclosed, for questioning. They hope that he would lead them to the persons who may have placed the explosives in the vehicle.
The timing of the blasts and the choice of locations were apparently decided for causing the maximum damage. The Gateway area is crawling with tourists even on weekdays and hundreds of people, executives and office-goers, drive in for luncheon appointments. The Taj driveway is separated from the parking lot by a mere road. At Jhaveri Bazaar, at any given moment, several diamond brokers transact business on the sidewalks and, on a working day, it is a task to walk through the place.
The blast at the Gateway, where the remains of the taxi were found, created a crater, three feet by two feet and about a foot deep. The twin blasts shattered several cars parked in the area and many people were injured, their blood splattered across the sidewalks. "It was like a tremor. We were all shaken up. We saw the glass of the chambers shattering," said Michael Pinto, former Shipping Secretary, who was lunching at the Taj.
A senior police official told The Hindu that "we read a signal in this blast. Someone is trying to tell us that you have some 45 lakh people coming for the ongoing Kumbh mela at Nashik and we have the potential for inflicting a bigger damage. They have shown how, they can strike anywhere and at will." He said the implication was that "we would have to step up our security there as well as in Mumbai because from Sunday, public festivity at every street corner during the Ganapati puja makes for easy targets. There may be something in this timing."
The Maharashtra Chief Minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, said this was a deliberate attack because "there is a noticeable improvement in the city's financial sector and hotels are full of tourists, and the plan was to mar the peace and hit at the pulse of the economic lifeline".
He saw a design but said that police would have to be "alert all the time". Since the first blast occurred in December 2002, and "especially in the past three-four months", there had been a pattern. He wants everybody to help restore normal life "by not politicising this blast".
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