THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Mumbai investigators comb triple bombing site for clues

(Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press)
By Lydia Polgreen and Vikas Bajaj
New York Times / July 15, 2011

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NEW DELHI - Indian officials said yesterday that the bombers who had traumatized Mumbai during the evening rush a day earlier appeared to be trained in handling explosives and had possibly used timers to synchronize the deadly triple blast. But they also said that investigators had not identified any suspects and that they had been hampered by a soaking rainstorm that impeded evidence-gathering.

As of late yesterday, no group had claimed responsibility for the three explosions that killed 17 people and wounded 131 in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, on Wednesday, the first terrorist attack there since the assault by a team of Pakistan gunmen in November 2008.

At a news conference in Mumbai, India’s top security official, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, would not speculate about who might have carried out the bombings. “We are not pointing a finger at this stage,’’ he said. “We have to look at every possible hostile group.’’

Intelligence officials had picked up no warnings that an attack was imminent, Chidambaram said.

“Whoever has perpetrated this attack has worked in a very, very clandestine manner,’’ he said.

The home secretary, R.K. Singh, said that ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer component, had been used in the bombs, and that the early evidence pointed to the use of timers rather than remote triggers as the detonators. The explosions took place within minutes of one another in crowded areas of the city.

“They were not crude bombs but sophisticated devices,’’ Singh said in New Delhi. “Only somebody who has training can assemble those devices.’’

The chief of Mumbai’s antiterrorism squad, Rakesh Maria, said heavy rain was hampering forensics investigators.

A senior US law enforcement official said early indications pointed to India-based militants, not to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group in Pakistan that is suspected of being behind the 2008 assault on Mumbai. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, cautioned that the investigation was still in its early stages and that it was premature to make any firm conclusions. The police described the bombs as improvised explosive devices.

Determining whether the attacks were carried out by a domestic group such as India’s mujahedeen or a foreign group such as Lashkar-e-Taiba was essential to understand what the political impact might be, analysts said.

India and Pakistan have only recently restarted formal talks that had been suspended in the aftermath of the 2008 attacks, gingerly discussing issues such as the status of the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan’s foreign minister is scheduled to visit India this month, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman in India said the visit would go ahead as planned.

The deteriorating relationship between the United States and Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, as well as the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president’s half-brother who controlled southern Afghanistan, have made an already complex regional atmosphere even more volatile.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to visit India next week to discuss regional security and other issues.

The Indian mujahedeen is a shadowy domestic group that has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks beginning in 2006, but its ability to carry out attacks has waned since the government arrested many of its top members in 2008. Officials said that two people suspected of being members of the group were arrested this week before the attacks and were being interrogated.

Some analysts praised Indian officials for their handling of the explosions, saying that the response was far more swift and controlled than the reaction in 2008.

Chidambaram, appointed after the 2008 attacks, denied that there had been an intelligence failure. Nonetheless, the government has faced criticism as many wonder why the perpetrators went undetected despite the millions spent to improve the country’s counterterrorism capabilities.

L.K. Advani, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters in Mumbai that the attacks demonstrated “not a failure of intelligence but a failure of policy’’ on the part of the Congress Party-led government.

With monsoon rains falling and the investigation blocking parts of the city, Mumbai was tense but quiet yesterday. Many shops were closed in at least one area where the attacks occurred.

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