July 14 (Bloomberg) -- Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said all “hostile” groups were suspects in the three bombings that killed at least 17 people in Mumbai last night, as security was stepped up at airports and refineries.
The blasts went off around 7 p.m. as many of the city’s 18 million people were heading home, injuring 131 people in the worst assault on India’s financial hub in three years. The attack targeted commuters in central Dadar district as well as the Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar, home to the nation’s biggest gem and gold trading centers.
“All groups hostile to India are on the radar,” Chidambaram told reporters in Mumbai today, calling for people to refrain from speculation about who was responsible. “We are not pointing a finger at this stage.”
Yesterday’s attack is the first in the city since Pakistani gunmen killed about 160 people in 2008, scuttling five years of peace talks between two nuclear-armed neighbors that have fought three wars since 1947. Mumbai’s streets returned to normal today, while stocks erased losses to trade higher on a day of declines across Asian markets.
“While it is an unfortunate event,” the blasts “should not have an impact from the capital markets point of view,” said A. Balasubramanian, who oversees $15.2 billion in assets as chief executive officer of Birla Sun Life Asset Management Co., India’s fifth-biggest money manager.
The Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index rose 0.1 percent at the 3:30 p.m. close, erasing a decline of as much as 0.8 percent. The MSCI Asia Index gained 0.2 percent lower.
The attack may have been timed to disrupt talks between India and Pakistan, said S.D. Muni, professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore.
“The government of India has not named any groups so far,” he said. They say they are investigating everybody, which is going very carefully” so as not to “spoil the possibility of any meaningful interaction with Pakistan.”
Chidambaram said the bombing wouldn’t derail efforts to improve ties with Pakistan, which he described together with Afghanistan as “the epicenter of terror.”
“We are neighbors,” he said. “Living in the most troubled neighborhood, every part of India is vulnerable.”
Security at Mumbai’s airport was tightened, while Oil & Natural Gas Corp. and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. said they were taking preventive measures at their installations. In the city, police were stopping taxis, trucks and rickshaws in Bandra, Dadar and Santa Cruz areas, while Maharashtra state’s armed police unit patrolled in combat vehicles.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will visit the Indian cities of New Delhi and Chennai next week as previously planned. “It is more important than ever that we stand with India,” she said in a statement yesterday.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the blasts in an e-mailed statement.
The attack, Mumbai’s most deadly since the November 2008 terrorist rampage that targeted foreigners and local commuters, was the latest in a series of blasts that have struck Indian cities over the past decade. Some have been attributed to Pakistan-based groups and others to domestic operatives. The violence has failed to stop India becoming the second-fastest growing major economy, with gross domestic product expanding at an average rate of 8.5 percent over the past five years.
The first bomb exploded around 6:50 p.m., said Jayesh Labdhi, a resident in the Opera House area. The blast damaged cars and motorcycles parked along the street. The bomb that exploded in Dadar in central Mumbai was planted in a gray-colored Maruti Suzuki car, Times Now television said, citing eyewitnesses.
The low-intensity nature of yesterday’s bombings pointed toward local militants such as the Indian Mujahedeen group, which claimed attacks in the cities of New Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad three years ago, the U.S. political risk assessment firm Stratfor said in an e-mailed statement.
Yesterday’s bombings come at a sensitive time in South Asia as the U.S. is trying to accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan and needs the cooperation of Pakistan to do so, Stratfor said. “The last thing the United States needs is a crisis between India and Pakistan.”
Ties with Pakistan and India have begun to recover since the raid on Mumbai by gunmen of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba group in 2008. The foreign ministers of the two countries agreed last month to discuss ways to boost trade and travel across the border in divided Kashmir.
Mumbai and major Indian cities including New Delhi, Hyderabad in the south and Ahmedabad in western Gujarat state have been hit by blasts over the past two decades.
Two bombs killed 52 people in the financial capital in 2003, an attack for which three people were eventually sentenced to death, including a married couple. Ten years earlier, serial bombings killed 257 people in the city.
In July 2006, explosions on commuter trains in the city killed 187 people and injured more than 800. In the November 2008 attack, 10 gunmen targeted luxury hotels including Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and Oberoi, a railway station and a Jewish center in a 60-hour raid.
India built more hubs for anti-terrorist commandos around the country in the aftermath of the 2008 disaster, and stepped up efforts to recruit more police. Still, local forces and intelligence agencies must be strengthened before terrorist attacks can be checked, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management.
While India has blamed militant groups in Pakistan or home-grown Islamic outfits for most of the attacks, investigators have charged Hindu activists for their involvement in the 2007 bombing of a Pakistan-bound train service that killed 68 people, an attack earlier blamed on Muslim extremists.
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