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2006-07-12

Series of Explosions Rip Through Rush-Hour Commuter Trains in Mumbai Killing Over 180, Wounding 700

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Police in India are hunting for clues as to who was behind Tuesday’s deadly bomb attacks on Mumbai’s train network that killed over 180 people and injured over 700. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. We go to Mumbai to speak with a reporter with the Times of India that was on the scene of one of the blasts. [includes rush transcript]

Police in India are hunting for clues as to who was behind Tuesday’s deadly bomb attacks on Mumbai’s train network that killed over 180 people and injured over 700.

Mumbai–formerly known as Bombay–is India’s financial capital and the near-simultaneous blasts happened at the height of the evening rush hour. At least seven explosions ripped through commuter trains and stations within 15 minutes of each other. The blasts all happened in fast trains and inside first class carriages. The city’s train system is one of the busiest in the world, carrying more than six million commuters a day.

Train cars were blown apart and witnesses reported body parts littering the railway tracks. Television images showed footage of bystanders carrying victims in the rain to ambulances and searching through the wreckage for survivors and bodies.

In the immediate aftermath of the blasts the city’s entire rail network was shut down, stranding hundreds of thousands of people in the city overnight. Another bomb was reportedly defused in a Mumbai suburban station.

Police have carried out a series of raids across Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai lies.

The attacks are the worst in the city for more than a decade. More than 250 people died in a string of blasts in the city in 1993.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh urged calm and blamed unnamed "terrorists."

But security sources in India have said the synchronized bombings were likely to have been carried out by militants connected to one or more of the dozens of armed Kashmiri separatist groups. Two of the main Muslim militant groups operating in Kashmir today denied any involvement.

  • Nitasha Natu, reporter with The Times of India. She was on the scene of one of the blasts yesterday. She joins us on the line from Mumbai.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Mumbai to speak with Nitasha Natu, a journalist with The Times of India. She was on the scene at one of the blasts yesterday. Welcome to Democracy Now!

NITASHA NATU: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe what you saw yesterday?

NITASHA NATU: Yeah. The moment we reached this little suburb called Borivali, which is at the fringe of the city. This is where the city ends. And when we reached there — we were there almost an hour after the blast actually happened — there were still a lot of witnesses, a lot of coolies and water boys and shoeshine boys, basically the people who helped accident victims out, who took them to the hospital, who actually pulled out mangled bodies from the compartment, and we spoke to them.

And the way they described the scene was the sound was deafening. I mean, it was something that they had never heard before. It was something like hundreds of gas cylinders exploding at the same time, something of that sort. And all they could see were body pieces, because Mumbai trains are packed to the capacity. You have a lot of commuters hanging on the doors, something which you wouldn’t really see in some other city probably. So after the blast, there were a lot of these people who fell right onto the tracks, and some of them got killed right there.

So these shoeshine boys and porters were the first ones to be on the spot, actually pulled out those people. They couldn’t really see a lot of bodies. There were just hands and severed heads and limbs. And there were women in the adjoining compartments, who, all of them, were like really panicked. They didn’t know what to do. But a lot of passengers who had minor injuries also joined in to help the accident victims and to remove the dead bodies. And almost, like say, an hour later, they were all moved to the neighboring hospital.

AMY GOODMAN: The blasts in Mumbai came hours after suspected Islamic militants killed eight people, seven of them tourists, in five grenade attacks in Srinagar in Kashmir. Is there any relation?

NITASHA NATU: Probably the government, the authorities, they are still trying to establish if there is any relation. They are questioning people and eyewitnesses, especially in Bombay. They have been questioning and taking down statements from a lot of eyewitnesses. People, some of them, describe having seen two men in a suspicious manner, moving about in a suspicious manner yesterday. So they have been questioning a lot of people, trying to establish a relationship, if there is any, between the two.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pakistani president, General Musharraf, has condemned the bombings. What is the significance of this?

NITASHA NATU: Well, it does make a difference, because here especially a lot of people are under the impression that it could be the handiwork of a communal outbreak. So there have been instances yesterday where a lot of Muslim men and women also came to help out victims, you know, Hindu victims. So in that sense, it does make a difference, because after what happened, after what the city saw last week, many people were under the impression that it was probably a communal-related blast, something to do with a communal sentiment. So, in that sense, it does make a lot of difference.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain further what happened last week.

NITASHA NATU: Last week, there is a suburb called Bhiwandi, which is outside Bombay. And there was a land dispute then between the government, the land, piece of land owned by the government, and the local people. The people claimed that the land was for a Muslim cemetery, a graveyard. And the government claimed it was its land, so it could build a police station there. So there were riots there, in which four people were killed, two civilians, following which, the local residents attacked the police and killed two policemen, lynched them alive. So, after that, you know, the city has been under tension. Probably a lot of people have been thinking that yesterday’s blasts would probably be related to last week’s incident at Bhiwandi.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nitasha Natu a reporter with The Times of India. She was on the scene at one of the blasts yesterday. She is in Mumbai. Can you go back to 1993 and talk about what happened then, and then about tensions in the community in Mumbai?

NITASHA NATU: Yeah. There has been a lot of tension, as I told you before. People have been, like say the blast yesterday, people have been — probably been under the impression that it’s something to do with communal forces, because back in '93, there were the riots in ’93, already communal — well, because of the blasts that took place in ’93. The outfit that claimed responsibility for them and the riots that followed were very communal. So, even yesterday's blasts, people thought probably on the same lines, you know, already communal.

But I don’t think it’s going to be that bad this time, because this time around we have had a lot of angels, a lot of common people, people coming up from across the city, poor people, slum dwellers, people from everywhere, who’ve put behind their religious differences and who’ve come to help people affected in the blast. You know, I mean, this is very rare, like people coming from across religions, especially there has been a lot of Hindu-Muslim tension. But despite that, you had Muslim men coming and helping Hindu men who were affected in the blast, putting all kinds of differences behind them. In that sense, I think it’s quite a difference now from the '93 blast. That time, it was very communal. This time it's not.

AMY GOODMAN: India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, around 150 million people, yet still a minority in India. Can you talk about the government and its relation to Muslims, the Indian government?

NITASHA NATU: Well, the Indian government, its relation to Muslims, I don’t think it’s really, I mean, the government has not really been any kind — it’s not really biased or in any way — not biased to Muslims or to the Hindus or any such. There’s no really — there’s no difference in the attitude or something. But I guess in everyday life, there are instances where these little differences keep cropping up, and when something like this happens, like a blast happens, it tends to — you know?

AMY GOODMAN: And is there a fear of more bomb attacks?

NITASHA NATU: Yesterday there was, yes. There were three to four calls that the police got, anonymous calls. People kept saying, "Oh, we found a bag here." And, you know, there’s probably a fear of a bomb hoax in some other suburb. And today, again, the police control rooms have been buzzing with hoax callers who keep saying that they found — they suspect a bomb or blast in some part of the suburb. People keep finding bags, unidentified bags or lunch boxes and stuff like that. There have been a lot of rumors, yes. So, in that sense there has been a fear of another bomb attack. There’s nothing really been [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Nitasha Natu, I want thank you very much for being with us, reporter from The Times of India speaking to us from Mumbai.

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