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Search and scramble Key suspects: Lashkar, Simi

Mumbai/New Delhi, July 12: As the toll from yesterday’s train blasts touched 200 and another 714 lay injured, investigative agencies today pointed their finger at Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and its local contacts from the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India.

“If the (likely) use of RDX proves Lashkar’s hand in the blasts, the way they were triggered within 11 minutes (of one another) bears the signature of Simi, which is believed to have built a strong base in Mumbai,” a source said.

Union home ministry officials said all states where Simi has bases have been told to raid probable hideouts with intelligence from central agencies. The outfit is believed to be active in Bengal, Assam, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala and Kashmir apart from its birthplace and nerve centre, Uttar Pradesh.

In Maharashtra, areas such as Aurangabad, Malegaon, Jalgaon, Nashik and Thane are believed to be Simi strongholds.

The sketches of over half-a-dozen suspects have been prepared with “details from an eyewitness and scores of injured”, a senior officer said.

These would be distributed among police investigators but are unlikely to be made public to maintain the probe’s secrecy.

Police sources said at least 15 people were involved in the blasts. “We know they boarded the trains at Churchgate station and got off at Bombay Central,” a senior anti-terrorism squad (ATS) officer said.

He denied media reports about eyewitnesses spotting men in Pathan suits carrying identical gift boxes loitering at Churchgate. “I can only say the suspects were dressed smartly to lose themselves in the crowd of first-class passengers.”

Investigators said the bombs might have been placed on the overhead luggage racks, which would explain most of the victims suffering head and chest injuries, presumably from blasts above their heads.

The state police chief said the police were probing a possible political link.

“Some politicians in the state are being probed for their suspicious actions and we will act against them soon. Their activities don’t seem to be right,” P.S. Pasricha told reporters.

Police sources said Lashkar and Simi may have planned the attack over six months to one year. The two outfits are believed to have jointly carried out the twin bombings that killed over 50 people in Mumbai in August 2003.

Saquib Nachan, a key suspect in the 2003 blasts and prominent Simi activist, is expected to be questioned in the Thane jail where he is lodged.

Simi and Lashkar have also been linked to the seizures of explosives across the state in the past six months ' including several in Marathwada and north Maharashtra two months ago. One raid resulted in a seizure of 43 kg of RDX from Aurangabad.

“More RDX consignments could still be hidden in Mumbai and around the city, and they may have been used in Tuesday’s blasts,” an officer said.

Crime branch officers are convinced that the local terror modules or sleeper cells had worked together with the city’s resurgent underworld operatives.

In January, the arrest of four suspected Lashkar activists had blown the lid off a plan to rebuild the outfit’s Mumbai network. Of these, three were Kashmiris and the fourth a local cleric.

From the Kashmiri youths, the police had seized radio sets that were to be used as remote-controlled explosive devices. Railway Protection Force sources said timer bombs might have been used in yesterday’s blasts.

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