Déjà Vu in Mumbai: Attack on India’s Financial Hub
Less than three hours ago, between 6:30 PM and 7:00 PM local time in India, three bomb blasts ripped through separate locations in the Indian coastal city of Mumbai. Official casualty figures, according to Prithviraj Chavan, the top official in the state of Maharashtra, currently sit at 21 people dead and 113 wounded, though officials say more people may be injured and that the death toll may still rise.
According to statements by Indian law enforcement officials and the media, the blasts appear to have been coordinated and the devices used are currently believed to be improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The blasts took place within 15 minutes of each other. A statement from the home ministry stated that authorities were treating the situation as a terrorist attack.
One blast struck an area known as Kabutar Khana (Pigeon House) in central Mumbai’s Dadar neighborhood. Police officials stated that the device was planted on an electric pole near a bus station. A second blast took place in Zaveri bazaar, a crowded market area in southern Mumbai that has previously been the target of terrorist attacks. The site targeted was an area filled with restaurants and food stalls. Four people were initially reported to have died in the Zaveri bazaar blast, with 25 to 30 more being wounded there, according to local police officials speaking to NDTV. The third blast, also in southern Mumbai, took place near Mumbai’s Royal Opera House, only 5 to 6 km from Zaveri bazaar. Media outlets said six people were initially killed in the Opera House blast, reportedly the most powerful of the three. While there is conflicting reporting on the number of injured, most news outlets report the number of wounded to be in double digits. All three sites were reportedly crowded locations where a high density of people could be regularly expected.
No group has so far taken responsibility for the attack. Indian television channels quoting unnamed sources say that a domestic militant Islamist group, the Indian Mujahideen (IM), are believed to be involved in the attacks. IM have claimed responsibility for a several bomb blasts in India over the years, including a 2010 blast in Pune that killed 17 people. According to media reports, the IM regularly coordinates and cooperates with Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the outfit responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed over 160 people. Media outlets are reporting that today is the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving LeT gunmen involved in the Mumbai attacks. India’s Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) claims it arrested two operatives of IM yesterday, but that it did not have any intelligence indicating that an attack was about to take place.
Pakistan has been swift to condemn the attacks. A statement issued from the Pakistani Foreign Office stated the following: “President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the government and the people of Pakistan have condemned the blasts in Mumbai and expressed distress on the loss of lives and injuries….The President and the Prime Minister have expressed their deepest sympathies to the Indian leadership on the loss of lives, injuries and damage to property in Mumbai.”
Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s top spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is currently en-route to Washington, D.C. for talks with his U.S. counterparts. There is currently no word on whether Lt. Gen. Pasha will cut short his trip to the U.S.
Pakistan and India are slated to meet for the latest round of peace talks in two weeks time. Dialogue between the two countries was suspended in 2008 following the deadly Mumbai attacks and talks are only now starting to resume. It is unclear what impact, if any, this latest attack will have on the Indo-Pak peace process.