| A child injured in the Paharganj blast being taken to a hospital on Saturday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Oct. 29: Bombs today ripped through three New Delhi markets packed with families shopping for Diwali and Id, killing over 50 people and wounding many more.
Burnt bodies, bloodstains, glass shards and smoking debris littered the spots as rescuers frantically pulled out the dead and injured. Thousands of survivors milled around in shock, trying to find out what had happened to missing relatives.
The government immediately sounded a national alert and the crisis management group went into a huddle. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cut short his visit to Calcutta and dashed back to the capital.
Singh called it an act of terrorism. “This kind of cynical attack on the people of India is just not acceptable,” said a spokesman for the Prime Minister. “He (Singh) is very distressed. India will never be defeated by terrorism.”
In a rapid reaction, Pakistan showed no hesitation in terming the blasts an “act of terrorism”. “Pakistan strongly condemns the terrorist attacks in New Delhi. The attack in a crowded market place is a criminal act of terrorism,” a foreign office statement said.
There was no immediate finger-pointing for the explosions, which come at a time when India and Pakistan are discussing lowering border barriers to bolster earthquake relief efforts. But home minister Shivraj Patil said: “They were not accidental.”
“Terrorism is a menace that we all have to face and fight unitedly,” Sonia Gandhi said after visiting the injured in Safdarjung hospital.
The first explosion, in Paharganj’s 6 Tooti Chowk at 5.30 pm, wrecked shops and killed at least eight people on the spot. Besides being a major shopping area flanking Connaught Place, Paharganj is near the New Delhi railway station and has many hotels for budget tourists.
“There was a huge sound,” said Sunita, who lives near the market. “I saw many people lying on the ground. I saw a child’s arm cut off and somebody else’s brain smashed out. It was very bad. Very bad.”
The toll in the second blast at Sarojini Nagar’s crowded Babu Market is expected to be high because the improvised explosive device went off near a cooking gas cylinder used by a snack vendor.
Shopkeepers cleared their carts and used them as makeshift stretchers to rush victims to hospitals. AIIMS, Safdarjung, Lady Hardinge and Ram Manohar Lohia struggled to cope with the rush.
At Govindpuri in south Delhi, an alert bus conductor averted a huge toll. Noticing someone had left their bag behind in the bus, he hurled it outside, where it exploded, killing three persons.
The government called for calm. A red alert was sounded in Delhi, its borders were sealed and all markets were closed down. Mumbai police put the financial capital, target of several blasts in the past 12 years, on high alert.
Delhi police, who said RDX had been used in all the blasts, saw parallels with the 1997 serial explosions in the capital, which were masterminded by Abdul Karim Tunda, a Lashkar-e-Toiba bomb expert.
A Delhi court was expected to sentence a suspected Lashkar militant today in the Red Fort attack case, but put it off till Monday. Earlier this year, the capital had witnessed twin cinema blasts.
Ten people were detained from New Delhi railway station and a few bus terminals. A hotel was also raided.
Washington had recently warned of possible attacks on US interests in India.
“We saw bodies terribly charred, limbs missing. It was a horrible sight, a terrible sight,” one British tourist said. “Don’t let the terrorists win.”