- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

NEW DELHI | A coordinated series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas across the Indian capital Saturday evening, killing at least 18 people and injuring at least 61, officials said. A Muslim militant group claimed responsibility.

All of the bombs exploded in, or very near, crowded shopping areas in various parts of New Delhi. They began going off just before sundown - prime time for weekend shoppers in this crowded, chaotic city. Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said there had been five explosions, although Mayor Arti Mehra earlier said there were as many as seven.

“It’s a very cowardly act of violence,” Mr. Mehra told reporters near the scene of two of the explosions, in the M-Block market of the city’s upscale Greater Kailash neighborhood. “They want to break the spirit of Delhi. They have tried this in other places before and they have not succeeded and they will not succeed here. They will not scare us.”

Local media received an e-mail sent just before the blasts warning that India was about to receive the “message of death.”

“In the name of Allah, Indian Mujahideen strikes back once more. … Do whatever you can. Stop us if you can,” said the message.

The Indian Mujahideen was unknown before May, when it took responsibility for a series of bombings in the western city of Jaipur that killed 61 people. The group also said it was responsible for July blasts in the western state of Gujarat that killed at least 45.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil said at least 18 people were killed Saturday.

“We will find out who has done it,” he told reporters.

U.S. Ambassador David Mulford condemned the attack.

“There is no justification for the vicious murder of innocent people. The U.S. stands shoulder to shoulder with India in the fight against terror,” he said.

The deadliest explosion appeared to be in Gaffar Market in the city’s Karol Bagh neighborhood, a warren of stores popular among wholesalers and bargain-hunters. It exploded on a street jammed with clothing shops and stores that sell cheap mobile phones. Hours later, a mangled rickshaw could be seen in front of the small shop where the bomb exploded.

Two of the explosions occurred just 300 yards apart in Connaught Place, the city’s central shopping district. The usually crowded streets quickly emptied of shoppers and filled with screaming police cars, fire engines and gawking crowds.

In the minutes after the blast, the scene was filled with blood and chaos, as police officers raced to the scene and passers-by helped victims into taxis and rickshaws to get to hospitals. A sadhu, a Hindu holy man clad in orange robes, lay face down in the gutter a few feet away, apparently dead. Another man walked away from the scene, helped by other men, his face covered with blood.

A second blast in Connaught Place went off inside a park crowded with families and young people relaxing on the grass.

Raj Kumar, 30, a store clerk in the area, said he was nearby when he heard the explosion.

“Everyone was running every way,” he said. “They heard the bomb, and they just started running.”

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