India identifies bomb suspects

July 14, 2006|By HENRY CHU | HENRY CHU,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Bombay, India -- Under intense pressure to show progress, authorities identified their first suspects yesterday and detained about 20 people for questioning in connection with this week's deadly railway bombings.

Indian news media broadcast photos of two men believed to be linked to Tuesday's string of rush-hour blasts along Bombay's crowded western commuter line, an attack that killed as many as 200 people and wounded hundreds more. But there were conflicting reports as to the suspects' names, and authorities provided no background on the men or details on what their roles might have been.

Bombay police said today that a man known only as Rahil was being sought in connection with the blasts but gave no more details.

The development came after 48 hours of intensive investigation by police, who have interviewed hundreds of people and detained 20 for further interrogation, a police official said.

Authorities are under pressure to find those behind Tuesday's bombings, the worst terrorist attack in 13 years in India's commercial and entertainment capital. But such investigations in India are often hampered by a lack of coordination.

Most of those detained for further questioning hailed from predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Bombay's suburbs, police said. Although there has been no official claim of responsibility for the attack, suspicion has focused primarily on an Islamic militant group known as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, or "Army of the Pure," which has waged a bloody battle to establish Muslim rule in the contested Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

India blames the organization for several bombings that rocked New Delhi in October and accuses archrival Pakistan of sponsoring the group. Islamabad denies that allegation, but sharp words between the two countries since Tuesday's attack have spurred fears that their slow-motion peace process could bog down further.

A man purporting to represent a newly established al-Qaida outpost called a Kashmiri news agency yesterday to applaud the bombings in Bombay, also known as Mumbai. The man spoke in Urdu, Pakistan's official language, and boasted that a new al-Qaida wing had been set up in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the Associated Press reported.

If true, it would represent al-Qaida's first beachhead on Indian soil, but there was no way to verify the claim, and India's national broadcast news media largely ignored it.

Instead, much of the discourse, and some criticism, centered on the lax security along Bombay's rail network. The system carries 6 million passengers daily and offers a tempting "soft" target for terrorist attacks. Stations are not equipped with video cameras, and most have no barriers for entry onto platforms.

"You can get in from anywhere - you can just walk in," said Gregory Fernandes, 35, as he waited for a train at the Matunga station, where one of the explosions occurred. "I don't know to what extent they can provide security. They can't cover the entire platform."

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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