NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Five bombs exploded in quick succession in crowded markets and streets in the heart of India’s capital New Delhi on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring at least 90 more, police said.
The Indian Mujahideen Islamic militant group, which has claimed several major attacks in recent months, sent an e-mail to television stations saying it was responsible for the blasts.
Police and witnesses said two bombs went off in dustbins in and around Connaught Place, a shopping and dining area popular with tourists and locals in the city centre. Others exploded within minutes of each other in busy markets around the city.
“Around 6:30 p.m. we heard a very loud noise, then we saw people running all over the place,” said Chanchal Kumar, a witness whose shirt was soaked with the blood of several victims whom he had helped to carry into ambulances.
“There were about 100-200 people around this place,” he said. The weekend was a particularly busy one ahead of Hindu and Muslim festivals.
The Indian Mujahideen e-mail mentioned nine bombs. Police said they had found and defused four.
“We have news of 20 people killed, and the toll could rise as many people are seriously injured,” Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal told reporters.
In a hospital bed, Gulab Singh, his head bandaged, wailed at the death of his 2-year-old grandson.
“We were all sitting around the parking lot when suddenly there was a huge blast. We did not know what happened. My world has changed,” Singh said, crying inconsolably.
Hundreds of people have been killed in a wave of bombings in India in recent years, mostly blamed on Muslim militants, with targets ranging from mosques and Hindu temples to trains.
In July, at least 45 people were killed when a series of bombs ripped through Ahmedabad, the main city of the western state of Gujarat. A day earlier, one woman died when eight bombs went off in the IT hub of Bangalore.
The failure to prevent the attacks has become an embarrassment for the Congress party-led coalition government, with elections less than a year away.
Police say the Indian Mujahideen is an offshoot of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India, but that local Muslims appear to have been given training and backing by militant groups in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“I can just say that these blasts have been planned by the enemies of the country and they will be taught a lesson,” junior home minister Sriprakash Jaiswal told reporters at one site.
Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the main Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told the NDTV channel that the profile of the bombers had changed over the last three years and attacks could no longer be blamed on outsiders.
“Homegrown terrorists are on the increase,” he said. “We cannot shut our eyes to that reality.”
Many streets that would normally have been bustling on a Saturday night quickly emptied after news of the attacks.
One bomb exploded in a newly constructed park in the centre of the Connaught Place roundabout, built above one of the main stations of the Delhi underground. Police closed down the metro and major markets in the city as a precaution.
Another bomb went off in a dustbin near an underground station entrance on an arterial road leading into the area, housing the offices of several foreign banks and multinational companies.
“It was a huge blast,” said another witness, Sanjeev Gole.
Other attacks came in the Ghaffar Market area of Karol Bagh, full of electronics shops and packed at weekends, and in Greater Kailash 1, home to restaurants and high-end retail outlets.
Broadcasts showed wrecked cars and mangled motorbikes alongside personal belongings, some of them bloodstained, and abandoned shoes.
Wounded people were shown being carried away by rescuers, one leaving a trail of blood on the ground.
Hundreds of people milled around as police cordoned off the sites of the explosions, many of them angry with the authorities.
India’s deadliest attack in recent years came in July 2006, when seven bombs exploded on Mumbai’s railway system, killing more than 180 people.
The last major attack to hit the capital was in 2005, when 66 people were killed when three bombs exploded in busy markets.
Writing by Simon Denyer; Editing by Caroline Drees