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Blasts on Indian Commuter Trains Kill More Than 140

July 11, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: It was the height of the bustling rush hour
in India’s
financial center, Mumbai, when multiple bombs tore through the city’s commuter
rail network. Stunned survivors and bystanders watched rescue workers
struggling in the pouring monsoon rain to reach the dead and wounded.

SHIVRAJ PATIL, Home Minister, India: They are in the process of
collecting the information about the passengers, and casualties, and all of
those things.

MARGARET WARNER: As workers cleared their way through debris,
the death toll mounted to well over 130 by midnight. Authorities said all the
bombs appear to have been planted in the first-class carriages of the trains.

Mumbai is not only a financial hub, but India’s largest port city, a
metropolis of more than 16 million. The prime minister’s spokesman denounced
the attacks as clear acts of terror.

SANJAYA BARU, Spokesman, Indian Prime Minister: We will work
to defeat the evil designs of terrorists and will not allow them to succeed. I
urge the people to remain calm, not to believe rumors, and carry on their
activities.

MARGARET WARNER: India’s home minister, Shivraj
Patil, acknowledged the government had some intelligence an attack was coming,
but not specific enough to stop it.

As night fell, police carried out raids across India, and
other major cities were put on high alert.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The attacks
bore the hallmarks of radical Islamic groups and also of Pakistani-backed
Kashmiri separatists. But Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf quickly
condemned the attacks.

The Mumbai carnage followed a grenade attack earlier in the
day in Srinagar, the largest city in
Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Today’s attacks were the deadliest in Mumbai since 1993, when
the city was known as Bombay.
A series of explosions killed more than 250 people that time; authorities
blamed those attacks on criminal gangs.

Sifting through the attack details

MARGARET WARNER: Late this afternoon, I spoke by phone withAlex Perry, South Asia bureau chief for Timemagazine. He's in New Delhi.

And, Alex, thank you for joining us. It's after 2:00 a.m.where you are right now. Is the rescue effort still under way or is itcomplete? What can you tell us about the death toll and whether it's continuingto rise?

ALEX PERRY, South Asia Bureau Chief, Time Magazine: Therescue effort is mostly completed by now, as there were -- the trains startedrunning again a couple of hours ago, though they paused overnight.

Most of the carnage has been shifted off the tracks andbodies taken away. At the moment, we're looking at 147 dead and around about400 injured.

People still expect that number to rise. Obviously, some ofthe injured are very seriously injured.

The trains were -- this was rush hour, 6:00, 6:30. Thetrains in Bombay at that time are incredibly packed, generally about threetimes to what is meant to be their capacity, so every train will be carryingabout 4,000-4,500 people.

So I think we can expect the death toll to rise. But at themoment, the trains look at though they're going to be running again in themorning.

MARGARET WARNER: And is there any more detail on how theseattacks were carried out? How closely spaced were the blasts? What kind ofexplosives were used?

ALEX PERRY: This is a precisely coordinated attack. Therewere seven blasts within somewhere between 11 and 20 minutes of each other,according to the different reports of when they came in.

But essentially almost going all at the same time, all onthe same railway line. The western railway is a main artery going throughBombay. Something like 80 percent of India's commuters will take the railway toget to work, and 6.5 million people will use that one line.

So the idea, essentially, was to cripple India'sfinancial capital, its transport network, and that's what happened. The railwaylines shut down. People had to turn to the roads, and the roads weregridlocked.

Speculation on those responsible

MARGARET WARNER: What are Indian authorities telling you nowabout who they think was behind the attacks?

ALEX PERRY: Nobody's saying anything officially. India and Pakistan are having a peace processat the moment, and nobody wants to ruffle feathers.

Unofficially, off the record, security sources of mine(inaudible) are saying all fingers point to a loose alliance between a Pakistanmilitant group called the Lashkar-e-Taiba that fights in Kashmir and also hascarried out bombing campaigns (inaudible) across the rest of India. And thatgroup, working in alliance with a radical Indian Muslim group called SIMI,which was originally a student group.

That nexus is thought to be behind a series of blasts in Indiaover the last few years. Bombayitself, actually, in 2003, there were nine explosions over a period of aboutnine months in which a few people died.

And in the last 12 months, we've had bomb attacks in Delhi that killed 60, bomb attacks in the Hindi holy cityof Varanasi which killed around 20, and attacksin Bangalore and Hyderabad, the two I.T. centers.

MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying one group is involved inthe Kashmir conflict but the other group is not? If not, what is their aim?

ALEX PERRY: Their aim is -- well, I mean, I have met one ofthese guys shortly before there was a large blast in Bombay in 2003. I met asenior leader in SIMI in Bombay.

He basically expressed rage. There was no point. There wasno manifesto. He didn't want a change in policy. He didn't want any -- hedidn't have any specific, say, a withdrawal from Kashmir. His whole point wasto kill Hindus.

He basically saw himself as alienated and all Muslims asalienated in India by decades, if not centuries, of oppression anddiscrimination. He said that Muslims were excluded from the Indian boom, thattherefore they always lived less healthy lives. They were ghettoized, and theywere frequent victims of violence, of communal violence from Hindus.

So for him the whole point of what he was doing was(inaudible) it was an expression of rage. He wanted to kill.

MARGARET WARNER: And are either of these groups linked toal-Qaida in any way?

ALEX PERRY: Yes, the LeT has proven links to al-Qaida. There'sbeen several senior members of al-Qaida arrested in Pakistan, who've beenarrested from LeT safe houses. LeT and al-Qaida have been known to sharetraining facilities, intelligence.

And they both have a connection through the Pakistanisecurity services, the ISI, which to many people believe operates, you know,fairly independently of President Musharraf.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Alex Perry, Time magazine, thankyou so much.

ALEX PERRY: Sure.

Attack on India's financial hub

MARGARET WARNER: And since we talked to Alex Perry,authorities revised their count of the number of explosions to eight.

Now, some perspective on why Mumbai was targeted and thepossible fallout from today's attacks. For that, we're joined by AnilPadmanabhan, New York bureau chief for IndiaToday, India'slargest weekly news magazine.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Why do you think Mumbai, the city of Mumbai, would be a target for terrorists? WhatAmerican city would you compare it to?

ANIL PADMANABHAN, New York Bureau Chief, India Today: Typically, New York. It's India's commercial capital and alsothe business capital. It's a port, so there's a tremendous amount of investmentin that city.

It's also the corporate headquarters for some of the biggestcompanies from India,Reliance and Tarders (ph), to mention two. It's the seat where Bollywood is located.

MARGARET WARNER: The film industry.

ANIL PADMANABHAN: In every which way of a commercial hub ofthe country, and hence a primary target for anybody looking to cripple Indiaeconomically.

MARGARET WARNER: And when you mentioned Bollywood, you meanthe film industry, the Indian film industry?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: Correct.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how essential is rail transport tothis city?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: Absolutely critical. It's like mycolleague from the Times said; it's an artery that runs north to south inMumbai. And it's critical to transporting people from across, right from thesouthern tip of Bombayright up to the northern suburbs. And it's like he mentioned, absolutelycritical on a daily, five-day work week in the city.

Shock to a peaceful nation

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what are you hearing from your sourcesabout who the likely perpetrators might be? Are they echoing what Alex Perry'ssources talked about, about the nexus between a Kashmir-related group and thena kind of indigenous Muslim student-based group?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: Actually, like Alex said, they're verycautious in naming anyone, as opposed to what they would do in the past. Anddiscussion is understandable from what the feedback and the kind of sequencing ofthe two incidents.

I presume you're aware of the strikes in Kashmirwhich were similar (inaudible) blasts. There is a strong reference being madeto these extremist Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based groups, like theLashkar-e-Taiba, which have close links, established links with the al-Qaida. Sothere is a clear pointer being made in that direction.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, are Indian authorities concerned thatal-Qaida is trying to or in the process of really establishing a beachhead in India?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: I'm not sure they'll be able to establisha beachhead in India, butthey definitely have kind of beginning to ring India. Especially not muchattention has been dwelled on the fact that Bangladesh has been identified evenby the State Department as potential hub where al-Qaida has begun to operatefrom.

So, in a sense -- and already in Nepal you have a problem with thecommunist extremist groups. So, in a sense, India is being ringed by variousextremist groups, including the al-Qaida.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Alex Perry also mentioned that othergroup that was more indigenous, and that one leader he'd spoken to, the Muslimleader, and about his rage. How intense has the communal tension been betweenMuslims and Hindus in that part of India?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: In Maharashtra, actually, in this city, Bombay has probably gotthe best record, in terms of communal amity in the country. It's only in '93that the city saw its first backlash against Muslims.

But otherwise the city has been a kind of leader in peopleliving very comfortably with each other. So this city has not seen the tension,but there are other parts in the state which have been flashpoints, but thesehave been like far and few. They really haven't got the pattern and thesystemic nature that Indiasaw in the '80s.

MARGARET WARNER: India has certainly seen its shareof political violence over the decades. Is an attack like today's shocking, doyou think, to Indian society or political culture? Is it on a par with, I don'tknow, 9/11 or in Londonthe subway bombings of last year?

ANIL PADMANABHAN: Definitely, it's a shock to the nation. India, as youknow, has been a pacifist nation. On its own accord, it has never attacked anyother country in the world.

And it also has a track record of non-violence, from thefather of the nation, which is Mahatma Gandhi. So it's a nation which hasgenerally existed peacefully with all its neighbors, in normal circumstances. Andto get such a tragedy afflicting them and to a city, particularly like Mumbai,and also at a time when Indiais on such economic ascendancy, it comes as a double shock to the country andto the people at large.

MARGARET WARNER: Anil Padmanabhan, thank you, and oursympathies.

ANIL PADMANABHAN: Thank you for having me.