- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

BOMBAY — India blamed Islamic militant groups yesterday for twin car bombings in Bombay, the worst terrorist attack in a decade in the country’s financial heart which killed at least 50 persons and left 154 wounded.

The bombs were planted in two taxis and exploded minutes apart Monday, ripping through a crowded jewelry market, the Zaveri Bazaar, and in front of a colonial-era tourist attraction, the Gateway of India.

Police rounded up several people for interrogation, including the driver of one taxi that exploded at the Gateway of India.

At least five other explosions in Bombay in the past six months have been blamed on the pro-Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba group and its ally, the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, a militant Muslim students’ group outlawed in 2001.

“The people responsible before appear to be the people responsible now,” Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told reporters after visiting the site.

Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of more than a dozen Islamic rebel groups fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989. It wants independence for the Himalayan province or its merger with Muslim-dominated Pakistan.

No one has taken responsibility for the attack.

Mr. Advani said Lashkar-e-Taiba’s suspected involvement “raises doubts about our neighbor,” an indirect reference to rival Pakistan.

He said Pakistan’s “war of terrorism” was directed against all India. “There is an attempt to destabilize the whole of India,” he said.

Pakistan’s Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed, in Islamabad, dismissed Mr. Advani’s remarks as “baseless allegations against Pakistan.”

Pakistan joined other nations in denouncing the bombing, and Mr. Advani acknowledged Pakistan’s gesture.

“Though Pakistan has condemned the attacks, they should consider our demand to hand over 20 criminals. First they should do this,” he said, referring to a list of suspected terrorists that India says are sheltered in Pakistan.

The Indian Express newspaper said police are searching for five suspects, including two women who hired the taxi to go to the Gateway of India. They got out of the taxi, purportedly for lunch, leaving a bag inside. The driver also was strolling outside when the car blew up, the Express said. The driver of the second cab at the Zaveri Bazaar was killed.

The attacks seemed aimed more at Bombay itself than any particular ethnic group. Instead of arousing communal passions, they united Muslims and Hindus in their grief.

“Even after the blasts, both Hindus and Muslims were together in the rescue,” said Sohail Rokadia, a Muslim community leader and businessman.

A group of 200 Muslims waving the national flag and peace banners marched in Bombay to condemn the attack.

The timing of the blasts raised concerns they were linked to a dispute over a religious site in the northern city of Ayodhya claimed by both Hindus and Muslims that has been the source of much bloodshed in the past, including 1992 riots in Bombay in which thousands were killed, mostly Muslims. A series of bomb blasts in Bombay killed more than 250 people in 1993.

Monday’s bombings came hours after the release of a long-awaited archaeological report on the site.

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