- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

NEW DELHI — Near-simultaneous explosions rocked the Indian capital yesterday evening, tearing through a bus and two markets crowded with people shopping for gifts for a Hindu festival.

At least 58 persons were killed and dozens wounded in the blasts, which the government blamed on Muslim terrorists.

Police declared a state of emergency and closed all city markets. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged calm while denouncing the bombings, which did not prevent an unprecedented India-Pakistan agreement to open the Kashmir border to facilitate aid for survivors of the region’s devastating Oct. 8 earthquake.

“These are dastardly acts of terrorism,” Mr. Singh said in a brief televised statement. “We shall defeat their nefarious designs and will not allow them to succeed. We are resolute in our commitment to fighting terrorism in all forms.”

Asked who was responsible, he would say only “there are several clues.” The Indian government faces opposition from dozens of militant groups — particularly Kashmiri separatists, some of whom also oppose the peace process between Pakistan and India.

The first explosion hit at 5:45 p.m. in New Delhi’s main Paharganj market, leaving behind bloodstained streets and mangled stalls of wood and twisted metal.

Within minutes came an explosion at the popular Sarojini Nagar market and the bus blast in the Govindpuri neighborhood. Police said at least 60 persons were wounded in the first blast and dozens in the other two.

The attacks targeted the many people shopping just days before the festival of Diwali, a major Hindu holiday during which families exchange gifts, light candles and celebrate with fireworks. The markets where the blasts occurred often sell fireworks that are elaborate and potentially dangerous.

“When I got up, there were people everywhere — they were bleeding and screaming,” Anil Gupta said about 45 minutes after the blast as he sifted through the wreckage of his jewelry store. Scattered around his feet were bracelets, necklaces and earrings.

The explosions erupted just hours after India and Pakistan began talks on opening the heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to help get food, shelter and medical aid to victims of the Himalayan region’s quake, which killed tens of thousands of people, most in Pakistan.

Opening the border is extremely sensitive for India because of a 16-year insurgency by Islamist militants in Kashmir who seek to make the Indian portion independent or unite it with Pakistan.

Despite the blasts, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said early yesterday that the two sides agreed to open the frontier at five spots beginning Nov. 7. Shipments of aid supplies will be allowed to cross at those points, and Kashmiri civilians will be allowed to cross on foot, with priority given to those with families divided by the border.

Pakistan condemned the multiple attacks in New Delhi.

“The attack in a crowded marketplace is a criminal act of terrorism. The people and government of Pakistan are shocked at this barbaric act and express deep sympathy with the families of the victims,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the blasts “yet another example of terrorists’ cynical and callous disregard for human life.”

“On behalf of the British government, I would like to offer the people of India my support and deepest sympathy,” he said.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil urged people to stay off the streets. “I appeal to you: Please disperse from the markets and go back to your families,” he said in a televised address.

Mr. Patil said 39 persons were killed in Sarojini Nagar, a popular shopping district in the southern part of the capital filled with everything from knockoff designer clothing to kitchen crockery.

Fire department official Sham Lal said at least 16 persons died in the Paharganj market blast, and three were killed on the bus.

Babu Lal Khandelwal, a shop owner in the Paharganj market, in an area near the train station packed with small stores and inexpensive hotels often filled with foreign backpackers, said the blast knocked him to the ground.

“There was black smoke everywhere,” he said. “When the smoke was cleared and I could see, there were people bloody and people lying in the street.” The blast badly damaged a row of shops, including Mr. Khandelwal’s clothing store. About an hour later, investigators stood around a small, debris-filled crater about 10 feet from the string of shops.

All around, broken glass and other wreckage littered the street, shop signs were ripped and twisted and clothes — mostly T-shirts and scarves — hung from low-strung power lines.

At Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Dr. S.K. Sharma, the emergency-room chief, said his team had received four victims from the first blast who arrived dead and “charred beyond recognition.” They were treating 30 injured in the same explosion, he said.

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