Serial blasts rock Delhi

Three deafening blasts rocked crowded shopping centres in the Capital on Saturday, killing at least 61 people and injuring 188 others. The first blast was reported at around 5.40 pm from the crowded Paharganj area. The other explosion occurred soon after in Sarojini Nagar. The third blast was in a DTC bus in Govindpuri. Detailed account

india Updated: Oct 30, 2005 18:48 IST

Three deafening blasts rocked crowded shopping centres in the Capital on Saturday, three days ahead of the Diwali festival, killing at least61 people and injuring 188 others, including some foreigners, police said.

The first blast was reported at around 5.40 pm from the crowdedPaharganj area, popular with foreign backpackers, and among the most congested areas in central Delhi close to the New Delhi Railway Station.

The other explosion occurred soon after inSarojini Nagar, another busy shopping area in south Delhi, popular among the middle class and even foreigners.

Soon after there were reports of similar blasts from a few other areas, including Govindpuri, also a teeming market, in south Delhi.

Police immediately ordered all shopping centres in the capital to shut and appealed to the people to go back home, throwing a damper on the celebratory mood ahead of the grand festival of lights.

"I appeal to the people to please go back to their families immediately. They will feel secure when they see their relatives," Home Minister Shivraj Patil said.

The almost simultaneous explosions occurred within hours after a city court deferred sentencing a Pakistani national and his six Indian accomplices who have been convicted of staging a terrorist attack at the Red Fort December 2000, in which three people were killed.

Additional Sessions Judge OP Saini had on Monday convicted Asfaq Ahmed of Pakistan and his Indian accomplices Nazir Qasim and Yusuf Farooqui of waging war against India, a charge that carries the death penalty. The sentencing has been deferred to Monday. Four others have been convicted of lesser charges. Four people have been acquitted in the case.

Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal did not rule out the hand of terrorists, saying it was the "handiwork of those who were backed by anti-India elements."

As the news of the blasts spread, the security around Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- who was about to board a flight from Agartala in northeastern India for Kolkata -- was stepped up, his aides said.

He expressed "deep shock" over the incident and talked to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, appealing to the people to remain calm.

"No terrorist can win over the people of India," Manmohan Singh said.

"From preliminary observations, it can be said the explosives were kept in a cycle rickshaw or a motorcycle. At least 40 are injured and six to eight people have expired," Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul told reporters in Paharganj.

Asked if there was a pattern in the blasts, Paul said: "It is too early to say that but we will work it out." The primary task before the police is to ensure that there is no panic and the injured are tended to immediately, he added.

Home Secretary VK Duggal said the government was monitoring the situation as a red alert was sounded in the capital.

"An alert had been sounded in all states, including Delhi, for possible terrorist attacks during the festive season," Duggal added.

Police and fire brigade personnel immediately rushed to the blast spots for relief and rescue operations. The injured were rushed to nearby hospitals.

Traffic gridlocks caused by holiday shoppers added to the woes of rescue workers.

"We have also rushed bomb disposal squads and anti-terrorist units to these markets and some other areas where we foresee problems," Sudhir Yadav, additional commissioner at the Crime Branch, said.

"There was a huge explosion and the walls of a number of buildings came crashing down," said Arun Gupta, secretary of the All Delhi Hotel Association.

"It was so powerful the whole market started shaking," added Gupta, who said he was barely 100 metres away from the blast spot at Pahargunj that was full of foreign tourists that throng its budget hotels and innumerable internet cafes.

The blast sites resembled a war zone with shell-shocked survivors finding their way through broken glass and collapsed masonry.

The Sarojini Nagar blast occurred at a stand-up food stall that has a number of other food stalls around it, an eyewitness said.

The blast was initially thought to have been caused by the exploding of a cooking gas cylinder but its cause soon became apparent with charred bodies and ripped up shop-fronts.

A fire broke out at the Sarojini Nagar, home to innumerable clothes retailers, and eatery owners scrambled to remove cooking gas cylinders to prevent further damage.

The third blast occurred near the Kalkaji depot in Govindpuri, another extremely congested area.

The Confederation of All India Traders asked for an immediate emergency meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit and Delhi Police top brass to discuss security arrangements in commercial areas.

An official of the brand new Delhi Metro said the trains were running normally and commuters were being thoroughly frisked before entering the stations.

First Published: Oct 30, 2005 18:48 IST