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45 Dead, 135 Injured as Pair Of Bombs Go Off in Bombay

By Amy Waldman

The New York Times -- BOMBAY, India

Forty-five people were killed and at least 135 were wounded Monday by two bombs in a pair of taxis in the heart of India’s commercial capital, the police said.

The blasts occurred minutes apart, the first in a packed shopping district, the second just next to a popular gathering place, the Gateway of India, a colonial relic whose massive arch has become an indelible image of this metropolis.

No one had claimed responsibility for the blasts as of late Monday afternoon. Suburban Bombay has been the site of five explosions on two buses, two markets, and a train in the last eight months, most recently in July, killing a total of 15 people.

Officials have attributed those attacks to the Students Islamic Movement of India, in conjunction with the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, both banned in India.

The Bombay police commissioner, R.S. Sharma, said Monday night that law enforcement authorities suspected that so-called jihadi groups were also responsible for Monday’s blasts, although he offered no specific evidence for that assertion.

For many Bombay residents, the explosions brought back horrific memories of similar serial blasts in 1993, when 13 bombs at the Bombay Stock Exchange and elsewhere killed more than 260 people and wounded more than 700.

Investigators say the 1993 blasts were carried out by Muslim underworld operatives seeking revenge for communal riots that followed the 1992 demolition by Hindu nationalists of a 16th-century mosque.

On Monday security forces went on alert in Bombay, Delhi, Gujarat and other locations, but there were no other reports of violence last night.

It was 1:05 p.m. when the first bomb detonated Monday in one of the city’s trademark yellow-and-black taxis at an intersection in the Mumba Devi neighborhood. It is in a shopping area usually so crowded with people that cars cannot pass through, near a major temple and in the midst of a popular jewelry market, Zaveri Bazaar.

At least two dozen people were killed and scores were injured. The bomb reduced the taxi that held it to a charred wreck, and shredded the front of the building where the taxi was parked. The immediate area was strewn with debris -- pineapples, oranges, sweet lime, a countertop -- from the juice shop next to the taxi.

Lal Sahab Singh, a taxi driver whose white outfit was patched with blood, was just yards from the blast. The passengers he had just dropped off simply disappeared from sight, he said. A dismembered thigh landed on his luggage carrier. He saw 50 wounded people around him, and he and others grabbed hand carts to load and move the wounded.

Lalit Jain, a metal trader who rushed to the scene, saw the upper portion of a teenage girl. About 20 yards away, Babu Lal Khimraji, 60, a jeweler, saw her lower half.

“This is definitely a terrorist attack like 1993,” Khimraji said. “This time the terrorists used taxis, and last time they used scooters.”

He added, “If the police would have acted efficiently, this would not have taken place.”

The area is majority Hindu, but has a substantial Muslim population; at least 30 percent of those wounded were Muslim. But many of the jewelers in the area are originally from the state of Gujarat, prompting immediate speculation, unsupported so far, that the blast was in retaliation for communal riots there last year that left 1,000 Muslims dead.