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Simi, Lashkar top suspects

New Delhi, Aug. 25: The Mumbai blasts could have been a joint operation by the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, investigators believe.

No group has claimed responsibility as yet for the attacks and agencies involved in the probe are yet to arrive at definite conclusions, but the needle of suspicion points to the banned Simi and Lashkar.

Intelligence sources believe Abu Hamza, who was arrested for his alleged involvement in last year’s Ghatkopar bus blast and later escaped from custody, is the brain behind the attack. They feel Hamza, who has shifted base to Saudi Arabia, organised the twin blasts with the help of Lashkar and Simi activists.

Preliminary findings suggest Semtex, a plastic explosive, was used to trigger the blasts.

.K. Advani, who leaves for Mumbai tomorrow, said he was not ready to blame any group until investigations are over. “Since November-December last year, Mumbai has been witnessing a number of blasts. The earlier ones were mostly in buses... In almost all cases, the organisation involved has been Simi, acting mostly in conjunction with the Lashkar,” the deputy Prime Minister said.

“Whether today’s blasts are the handiwork of the same organisations will depend on the investigations,” Advani said. He will take stock of the situation in Mumbai tomorrow and hold detailed discussions with the Maharashtra government.

The blasts have again raised questions about the working of intelligence agencies. There have been five bomb blasts in the last nine months in Mumbai, starting with the Ghatkopar bus blast on December 2 last year.

The minister of state for home, Swami Chinmayanand, reaches Mumbai late tonight and is expected to visit the injured. He will meet deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal.

Most senior ministry officials are being cautious and refuse to point fingers without proof. North Block has not mentioned Pakistan or the Inter-Services Intelligence until now.

“We do not want to rush to conclusions. Police are in the process of collecting evidence from the site of the blasts before we can have any definite clue to work on. The nature of the blast often points to the outfit involved,” said a senior ministry official.

But off the record, officials say Hamza carried out the blasts, with Lashkar and Simi help.

The Centre has received intelligence inputs suggesting that Hamza is the brain behind the blasts. Delhi has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get him deported from Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly developed close links with Lashkar activists.

The Centre learnt about a Laskhar cell in Saudi Arabia after the August 2002 arrest of Shakeel Ahmed Bakshi. During interrogation, Bakshi said he had been recruited by the Lashkar’s Kuwait cell. The cell’s existence was corroborated by Imran Khan, one of the prime Ghatkopar blast accused. Imran, who was deported from Dubai on January 9, had worked with Hamza closely and had planned terrorist strikes.

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