Terror in Mumbai

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

The bomb explosion on a Mumbai local train, the fourth in recent months, brings back memories of the 1993 serial blasts and raises new questions about the networks of terror at work.

in Mumbai

FOR the fourth time in recent months, Mumbai's suburban railway commuters were the targets of a bomb attack. On March 13, a day after the 10th anniversary of the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, a powerful explosion ripped through the first class ladies compartment of a local train during peak hour at the Mulund railway station, an hour's ride from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city's central railway terminal. Twelve people were killed and more than 70 injured. None has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A week after the blast, other than arresting one person, the police had made no progress in the case. What is clear, though, is that deliberate and consistent attempts are being made to disrupt life in the city. Yet it was business as usual for the city within hours of the blast.

Since December 2002, Mumbai has seen three bomb blasts near railway stations. The latest explosion, by far the worst, occurred at 8-45 p.m., just as the train entered the Mulund station. Four women were killed instantly. Limbs and other body parts of the victims were found lying some distance away from the site. The entire roof of the coach was ripped off, metal parts in the compartment were twisted out of shape and the seats were wrecked. According to the police, the bomb was planted among electrical fittings between the ladies compartment and the general compartment. According to forensic reports, the explosives constituted a combination of ammonium nitrate, potassium chlorate and sulphuric acid and were packed in a pan masala tin with a timer device, which triggered the explosion.

The police believe that ever since the blast at the Ghatkopar railway station on December 2, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been trying hard to spark communal violence in the city through organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde dismissed the theory that the attacks could have been carried out in retaliation for the Gujarat communal riots.

Six people, who the police allege are SIMI members, were arrested in connection with the Ghatkopar incident. But no link has been established between SIMI and the blast.

Four days after the first blast a bomb exploded at the Mumbai Central railway station injuring 25 persons; this time the police were convinced that it was the handiwork of these two organisations. A third blast on January 28 near the Vile Parle railway station, which injured 30 persons, created a state of uncertainty. The police announced a reward of Rs.1 lakh for anyone providing clues to the Vile Parle blast.

"The March 13 blast is being seen as an anniversary incident as it happened a day after the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai serial bomb blasts," a police officer told Frontline. "But on March 13, the city police booked Dawood Ibrahim's brother Iqbal Kaskar under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. We have to look beyond the obvious in our investigations." Established links between the underworld and militant organisations following the 1993 serial blasts will perhaps aid the police in their search for those responsible for the recent strikes.

Julio Ribeiro, former Director-General of Police, Punjab, has posed the question whether those arrested after the Ghatkopar blast were the real culprits. In comments published in a national daily, Ribeiro pointed out that the arrest of even a few of the culprits usually inhibit others in the same ring from carrying out their plans any further, but this did not happen in the matter of the recent serial blasts. But Pradip Sawant, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Detection), said substantial proof linking the arrested persons to the blasts and to militant organisations had been gathered before the police zeroed in on them.

Asked about the basis on which the LeT and SIMI were held responsible for the blasts, Sawant said: "Our evidence leads us to these organisations." The police justify their conclusions citing forensic reports, which stated that the composition of chemicals in the Ghatkopar and the Mulund bombs was similar.

Conflicting opinions have, however, emerged about the intensity of the blasts. Forensic experts believed that the Mulund explosion was of a much higher intensity than the others. The chemical cocktail was more sophisticated, although the content was largely the same. "Since these materials are easily available and it does not require great scientific knowledge to make a crude bomb, you cannot say these are trademark bombs. It could be anybody or it could be a bolder attempt at causing trouble," said an expert. The police, however, maintained that it was a low-intensity bomb, very similar to the one used in Ghatkopar.

Facing criticism over its intelligence failures, the police are under pressure to arrest the perpetrators of the blasts. A special team comprising 40 officers will take over the investigation. Several of the officers involved were part of the 1993 investigation. Additionally, the police have launched operations to capture key SIMI activists.

Security has been tightened in railway stations and trains. Regular announcements at stations request commuters to alert the police if they see any suspicious objects. A proposal to restrict or monitor the sale of chemicals that could be used for bomb-making, such as ammonium nitrate, has been floated. The Maharashtra government is setting up a counter-terrorism outfit too.

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