| A blast victim at a hospital in Mumbai. (Reuters)
Mumbai, March 14: Chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde tried to calm Mumbai, shaken after last evening’s blast in a local train, but preliminary police reports were disconcerting.
In an effort to pacify scared residents, Shinde said the investigation had thrown up “definite leads” and underlined that the Gujarati community was not the target of the blast, which left 12 dead and 86 injured.
But senior police officials investigating the blast that blew up an entire ladies’ compartment of the 7.56 local from Victoria Terminus say there may have been another bomb, either in the train or in one of the stations on the route. Police teams are searching for the bomb.
More ominously, there is unanimity in the police force and the government that the explosion was part of a series that included the Ghatkopar bus blast of December 2. Only, the bomb planted in the Karjat local was much more sophisticated and powerful.
According to preliminary reports, ammonium nitrate might have been used. “It was a chemical time bomb,” police chief R.S. Sharma said. “It was a terrorist attack aimed at spreading panic and fear.”
Of the four blasts in Mumbai in the past three months, this was the deadliest.
An officer from the bomb squad confirmed that the device that ripped the train at 8.45 pm at Mulund station was “very superior”. “You just have to see the mangled remains of the train, with a huge hole in its roof and its iron fittings burnt and twisted, to understand how powerful the bomb was,” he said.
Shinde, who visited the site at Mulund, said the government had got “definite leads about those involved in yesterday’s bomb blast”. Though he refused to give details, the chief minister said he did not rule out the involvement of either the Students’ Islamic Movement of India or the ISI.
After chairing an emergency meeting to chalk out an action plan to deal with the wave of blasts, Shinde said the latest incident can be linked to the Ghatkopar blasts that killed three and injured around 30.
The chief minister, however, refused to see this as an intelligence failure. He said the government has decided to step up co-ordination among related agencies. “There will have to be much more interaction and co-ordination among officials of the army, navy, railways, the department of atomic energy, the airport authority, civic administration and home,” he said.
Shinde took pains to dismiss rumours that the Gujarati community was being targeted to avenge riots. “The blasts were not aimed at any particular community,” he stressed. “There is no truth in the rumours.’’
The last three blasts in Mumbai have been set off in Gujarati-dominated areas, leading to conjecture that the community is being targeted by those seeking to avenge the post-Godhra riots.
Minister of state for railways Bandaru Dattatreya announced that the Centre was being forced to contemplate an amendment to the Railway Protection Force Act to prevent such incidents.
“As of now, the Act deals with protection of railway property, but the amendment proposes that the RPF be armed with investigative powers except in cases of murders and dacoities,” Dattatreya said. He added that 3,000 more personnel would be recruited to the RPF.
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the blast and the police have made no arrests.