Near-Simultaneous Bombings Kill at Least 20 in Mumbai, India

At least 21 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded Wednesday in a series of explosions that rocked congested areas of India’s financial capital, Mumbai, according to Prithviraj Chavan, the state’s chief minister. Chavan said it was too early to talk about suspects but at least one of the blasts was “quite powerful.” He warned the death toll could rise. (CNN)

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram called the explosions a “coordinated attack by terrorists.” (CNN) He appealed for calm as Mumbaikers voiced anger at the government because their city has been a repeated target for terror. “The entire city of Mumbai has been placed on high alert,” Chidambaram said at a news conference. “I would appeal to the people of Mumbai to remain calm and maintain the peace.” (CNN) He said forensic experts as well as security forces have been dispatched to Mumbai.

Prime Minister Mannohan Singh condemned the blasts and appealed to the people of Mumbai “to remain calm and show a united face.” (CBC)

The blasts occurred within minutes of one another in the areas of Opera House, Zaveri Bazar and Dadar, all busy commercial hubs that were teeming with people in the evening rush hour. The bomb tore apart a taxi that was parked next to a bus stop, witnesses told the BBC. It was unclear whether the explosives were planted inside the vehicle or in a nearby electricity meter box.

“I heard a loud explosion. And then I saw people with serious injuries lying in pools of blood,” another person told the Times of India. (BBC)

They brought back haunting memories in a city that has suffered terrorist attacks before, including the assault by Pakistani gunmen that killed 16 in November 2008.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Mumbai and signed a condolence book for the victims of the 2008 attack, condemned Wednesday’s attack. “I strongly condemn the outrageous attacks in Mumbai, and my thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and those who have lost loved ones,” Obama said in a statement. “The U.S. government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens. During my trip to Mumbai, I saw firsthand the strength and resilience of the Indian people, and I have no doubt that India will overcome these deplorable terrorist attacks.” (CNN) President Obama offered “support to India’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.” (BBC) “The American people will stand with the Indian people in times of trial,” President Obama added. (Washington Post)

As in the past attacks, the blasts Wednesday targeted congested areas. Mumbai police blamed makeshift bombs and told CNN-IBN that one was left in a car; another in a motorcycle. “The sound was absolutely deafening,” said Hemant Mehta, who was in the Opera House area, near a diamond market that serves as a small epicenter of the city’s economy. Everyone looked up, he told CNN’s sister station CNN-IBN. At first, some thought that heavy rains had caused a building to collapse. He said he was sure the sheer panic would cause a stampede.

The area in Dadar is near a train station used by millions of commuters. In 2006, a series of seven explosions killed at least 174 people on crowded Mumbai commuter trains and stations.

Zaveri Bazar is near a Hindu temple, in which some people were injured, Mumbai police representative Nisar Tamboli told CNN-IBN. Zaveri Bazar was one of the scenes of a twin bombing in 2003 that killed 54 people and also came under attack in the 1993 bombings that left 257 dead.

Photographer Rutavi Mehta told the BBC he was shopping nearby and heard the explosion. He grabbed his camera and ran to the scene. “I took a couple of photographs. I think they might be too graphic for broadcast,” he said. “Bodies and limbs were strewn everywhere. People were crying and screaming. The area was packed with shoppers at the time of the blast. A few offered assistance to the blood-soaked victims, while others looked on in a state of shock,” he said. “It was totally chaos. There were pools of blood everywhere.” (BBC)

“When I heard the blast, I tried to call because I knew he was in Dadar. Next thing I know someone picked up the phone and said he was admitted to KEM (hospital) so I cam here,” said Rinku Vishwakarma, whose husband carpenter was injured in the Dadar blast. “I have no idea how badly he is injured. I’m looking frantically for someone to help.” (Reuters)

In the 2008 attack, 10 armed Pakistanis stormed the city’s main train station, two luxury hotels and a Jewish cultural center, killing 164 people.

In March 2010, Mumbai police said they prevented a major terrorist strike after they arrested two Indian men, who, police said, were preparing to hit several targets in the city. In September, police issued a terror alert for the city during a popular Hindu festival.

Mumbaikars said the targeting of such congested areas meant that the blasts were intended to inflict high casualties.

Authorities also issued high security alerts for the Indian capital, New Delhi, and the eastern city of Kolkata, CNN-IBN reported. Witnesses told CNN-IBN that their window panes shook and they heard the thundering boom of the blasts. Workers who had not left their offices were advised not to venture out.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Pakistan was quick to condemn the latest explosions, in a statement issued by the foreign ministry. Peace talks between Pakistan and India have only recently resumed since they were broken off after the 2008 attacks.

“India is not going to cow down,” Cabinet minister Farooq Abdullah said. “Let those perpetrators of this terror remember, we will find them and Inshallah (God willing) we will give them the justice that India believes in.” (CBC)

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