Friday, August 1, 2008

Bombs are planted where they can kill as many people as possible; investigations follow, memories fade and months later, bombs explode in another city.

But with 552 people dead since October 2005, security forces remain chronically undermanned and ill-equipped, and the political elite appears unwilling to take the sweeping action experts say is needed to stop the bloodshed.

“What has been done between the last attack and the latest atrocity to augment our ability to stop terrorists, to root them out? Nothing,” said Ajai Sahni, a former chief of India‘s domestic Intelligence Bureau.

He called India’s police forces and its intelligence agencies “hideous and hidebound” and noted that in a country where hundreds of millions of people worry every day about finding enough food to eat, “every politician knows that security issues don’t win or lose elections.”

On Saturday, 22 explosions tore through the centuries-old city of Ahmedabad, killing at least 42 people a day after seven smaller bombs left two dead in the technology hub of Bangalore.

By Tuesday, police had traced an e-mail taking responsibility for the Ahmedabad blasts and two cars used in the attack to a suburb of Bombay, India’s commercial center, and had detained at least 30 people for questioning and arrested one possible suspect.

Authorities also defused 19 bombs found Tuesday near the main diamond markets in the city of Surat, 175 miles south of Ahmedabad, and issued a sketch of a young man believed to be linked to one of two explosives-filled cars discovered there.

And on Thursday, the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi said it received an e-mail warning of a bomb planted at a market in India’s capital.

But just as in the past dozen attacks, there was little expectation the police would come up with anything more than a few small timers, if that.

“These terrorists are never caught. The politicians are only talking. The police only know how to take people’s money,” said Ashok Patel, echoing commonly heard sentiments in India, where police are often seen as shakedown artists.

The 45-year-old Ahmedabad shop owner works down the street from where one of the bombs left bodies sprawled around carts piled high with mangos, pomegranates, bananas and oranges.

The choice of a market crowded with shoppers was clearly planned. The bombers have repeatedly hit targets that draw the biggest crowds: a temple during evening devotions in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, commuter trains during rush hour in Bombay, a mosque just as Friday prayers were ending in the southern city of Hyderabad.

The latest spate of bombings is not the first time predominantly Hindu India, born alongside Muslim Pakistan in the bloody partition of the subcontinent at independence from Britain in 1947, has had to contend with Islamic militancy.

In 1993, bombings in Bombay left 257 dead. A 2001 attack on India’s Parliament killed 14.

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