Investigators detained more than 20 people in raids on dozens of small hotels across the Indian capital Sunday as they hunted for suspects in a series of terrorist bombings that killed at least 61 people in two crowded markets, police said.
Authorities said they had already gathered "lots of information" about the attacks, while a caller claimed responsibility for the blasts on behalf of a small militant group. Police declared a state of emergency and closed all city markets after the Saturday evening bombings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denounced the apparently coordinated bombings, describing them as "dastardly acts of terrorism." Singh held an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday evening to discuss the attacks.
A man saying he represented the militant group "Islamic Inquilab Mahaz," or "Front for Islamic Uprising," took responsibility for the bombings in a call to the Kashmir News Service in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The little-known group is tied to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the most feared militant group in Kashmir, police said.
The caller, who identified himself as Ahmed Yaar Ghaznavi, said the attack "was meant as a rebuff to the claims of Indian security groups" that militant fighters had been wiped out by military crackdowns and the Oct. 8 South Asian earthquake. Patil refused to comment on the claim, but a leading anti-terrorism expert said earlier that the timing and nature of the blasts appeared to indicate the work of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
Police said they were looking for a man in his 20s who refused to buy a ticket on a bus and got off in the Govindpuri neighborhood, leaving behind a large black bag. When some of the 40 passengers raised an alarm, the driver and bus conductor examined it and threw it out just as the blast occurred, injuring them both.
Asked who was responsible for the attacks, Singh would only say "there are several clues." The Indian government faces opposition from dozens of militant groups _ particularly Kashmiri separatists, some of whom also oppose the peace process between Pakistan and India. A police spokesman said 22 people had been detained following the hotel raids, but declined to give further details, citing the sensitive nature of the investigation.
A police officer with knowledge of the investigations said forensic experts were probing whether the explosive RDX had been used in the attack, since witnesses said the biggest blast caused a huge ball of fire that the explosive commonly creates. Some militant groups in Kashmir are known to have expertise in using RDX. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The first explosion hit at 5:45 p.m. in New Delhi's main Paharganj market, killing 18 people and leaving behind bloodstained streets and mangled stalls of wood and twisted metal. Within minutes came an explosion at the popular Sarojini Nagar market, killing 43 people, and the bus blast in the Govindpuri neighborhood that injured nine.
Police said the three blasts killed at least 61 people and wounded 188, several seriously. The attacks targeted the many people shopping just days before the festival of Diwali, a major Hindu holiday during which families exchange gifts, light candles and celebrate with fireworks.
Delhi state's chief minister, Sheila Dixit, urged people to take precautions. On Sunday, many markets in New Delhi had few customers, an unusual scene in the run up to Diwali, northern India's most celebrated festival.
The explosions erupted just hours after India and Pakistan began talks on opening their heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to help get food, shelter and medical aid to victims of the Himalayan region's quake, which killed about 80,000 people, most in Pakistan. Opening the border is extremely sensitive for India because of a 16-year insurgency by Islamic militants in Kashmir who seek to make the Indian portion independent or unite it with Pakistan.
But despite the blasts, the two sides agreed to open the border at five spots beginning Nov. 7. Shipments of aid supplies will be allowed to cross at those points, and Kashmiri civilians will be allowed to cross on foot, with priority given to those with families divided by the border. Pakistan condemned the multiple attacks in New Delhi, AP reports.