Huge manhunt in Indian capital

Police on Monday stepped up what they called one of the biggest manhunts to date in the Indian capital, New Delhi, which was cloaked in tight security after a weekend attack claimed by Islamic militants.

As another victim succumbed to his injuries from Saturday’s coordinated explosions, bringing the death toll to 62, investigators said they hope cellphone records could lead to a breakthrough in the case.

The city overnight brought in 2 600 security personnel to bolster New Delhi’s 71 000-member police force and invited out-of-town forensic experts to help speed up investigations, a senior police official said.

“We are using all our resources, which includes spotters, informers and even known hoodlums, to crack this case as early as possible,” she said.

Three nearly simultaneous blasts tore through a bus and two crowded markets on Saturday in an attack claimed by the Islamic Revolutionary Group, believed to have ties to a leading militant group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

The carnage cast a pall on the capital ahead of Tuesday’s holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights. Some markets were emptier than usual as nervous residents stayed away after the blasts, which also injured 210 people.

A police commissioner who asked not to be named said detectives were sifting through millions of cellphone call records, trying to uncover who carried out the attacks.

“We are going through calls originating from 18 cellular towers at the three blast sites because we believe the attacks were coordinated with the help of mobile phones,” the commissioner said. “It’s hard work but at the end we will get what we want.”

Police guarded Delhi’s 18 exit points and prowled airports, rail and intercity bus stations for suspects in what a police spokesperson said was one of the biggest manhunts to date in the capital.

City police said they were also in touch with their counterparts in Indian Kashmir for details of the little-known Islami Inqilabi Mahaz, or Islamic Revolutionary Group.

Police were questioning more than two dozen people in connection with the attacks, which have drawn worldwide condemnation.

“We believe the attacks were carried out by a single group,” Karnail Singh, the head of New Delhi’s anti-terrorism police unit, said on Sunday.

Markets quiet

Sarojini Nagar, one of the two markets that was attacked, was quiet with traders bemoaning the lack of customers stocking up for Diwali, a time when people normally purchase new outfits and gifts for friends and family.

Diwali will be followed by the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr on Friday or Saturday, depending on the sighting of the moon, to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Krishan Paul, who has sold everything from milk and furniture to women’s clothing, was optimistic that people would “soon forget” and flock back to the markets.

Shopkeepers always open on the eve of major festivals like Diwali, as Hindus use the occasion to buy new outfits or gifts.

“Normally from nine onwards, we wouldn’t have a moment to ourselves,” said Bunty Kumar, who sells men’s shirts from a stall around the corner from the bomb blast site.

In a statement on Sunday, a man claiming to be the spokesperson of the Islamic Revolutionary Group said the attacks would continue as long as Indian troops remained in Kashmir.

“We know that it was created in 1996 and it has not been very active, but it has links with Lashkar-e-Taiba,” said Singh, the anti-terrorism official, referring to one of the leading groups waging an insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

The insurgency has claimed at least 44 000 lives since 1989 in the territory that is ruled in part but claimed in full by both India and Pakistan.
The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two wars over the Himalayan territory.

India blamed Lashkar for an attack on the country’s Parliament in December 2001, which left 15 people dead, including five attackers.

President Pervez Musharraf on Monday promised Pakistan would fully support India’s investigation into the bombings, calling them “the most dastardly terrorist attack”.

Musharraf told reporters India would get “total and unequivocal support from Pakistan in any investigation that India would like to carry out”.

Meanwhile, an Indian court sentenced a Pakistani to death, one of seven people convicted for aiding a deadly Islamic militant attack on soldiers at Delhi’s historic Red Fort, a court lawyer said.

Mohammad Arif, who used the alias Ashfaq, was handed the death sentence for his role in the December 2000 attack that killed three people, including two soldiers.—Sapa-AFP

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