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(photo credit: AP [file])
At least 200 people were killed in bombings that ripped through packed commuter trains in Bombay, a top Indian state official said Wednesday.
"Two hundred bodies have been found," R. Patil, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra state, told lawmakers in the state assembly.
Indian investigators on Wednesday combed through the twisted and torn wreckage of train cars ripped apart a day earlier by well-coordinated bombings that killed 200 people and wounded hundreds during the city's evening rush hour.
The eight bombs tore through packed trains, stunning a city that embodies India's global ambitions, presenting itself to the world as a crowded and cosmopolitan metropolis where bankers dine with movie stars and fashion models party until dawn.
As Bombay's 16 million people struggled to regain their footing Wednesday, suspicion for the blasts fell on Kashmiri militants who have in the past carried out near-simultaneous attacks on Indian cities, including bombings last year at three markets in New Delhi that killed 59 people.
The Times of India reported Wednesday that Indian intelligence officials believe two shadowy groups, the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, were responsible for the blasts. Both groups were blamed for a series of Bombay bombings in 2003.
Tuesday's attacks drew condemnation from around the world, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said "terrorists" were behind the bombings, which he called "shocking and cowardly."
Indian stocks, meanwhile, rose 1.3 percent in morning trading Wednesday, recovering from an early drop.
With the annual monsoon leaving the Arabian Sea port overcast and damp Wednesday, police picked through the mangled train cars, placing evidence in blue plastic bags and shooing away curious onlookers.
"We are just trying to establish what kind of explosives were used and where exactly the bombs were placed but it appears they were kept in the luggage racks," said police inspector Yeshwant Patil, who was helping sift through one wrecked train car.
His assessment matches with initial reports that most of the victims suffered head and chest injuries, presumably from blasts above their heads.
But even as authorities said they were trying to determine the nature of the bombs, the CNN-IBN television news channel, citing police, reported that powerful RDX explosives were used, and that police found timers at one of the station's hit.
Governments around the world tightened security in cities from New Delhi to New York after the eight blasts, which struck seven trains within minutes of each other during the early evening rush hour. India's cities remained on high alert Wednesday.
Commuter transit systems have been tempting targets for terrorists in recent years, with bombers killing 191 in Madrid in 2004 and 52 in London last year.
Bombay suffered blasts in 1993 that included the Bombay Stock Exchange, killing more than 250 people.
Tuesday's bombings appeared timed to inflict maximum carnage in this bustling Arabian Sea port of 16 million.
The first bombing hit a train at Bandra station at 6:20 p.m. The blasts followed down the line of the Western Railway at or near stations at Khar, Jogeshwari, Mahim, Mira Road, Matunga and finally Borivili, which was struck by two blasts at 6:35 p.m., according to the Star News channel. However, other reports gave different timelines.
On Wednesday the Press Trust of India quoted police as saying the toll had hit 190 dead and 625 wounded.
Residents overcame their fears and returned to the trains early Wednesday. However, there was none of the usual crush on the trains, which serve some 6 million people a day, making it one of the world's most crowded rail networks.
In many first class cars - the target of Tuesday's bombings - there were fewer than half the usual 60 to 70 people.
"Our trust in Bombay has been shattered, we had always thought trains were safe, but what can we do - in this city trains are the lifeline," said Brijesh Ojha, 35, who boarded the train at Bandra station, where the first blast occurred.
"They can't scare us this way," he said.
Worried residents searched through the night for missing friends and relatives. Dozens of people stood in hospitals, carrying pictures of the missing.
"We have gone to four hospitals, he would have called by now," sobbed Shakuntala Wari who was looking for her 24 year-old son, Vikas, at the Bhabha hospital near Bandra.
She had also visited a morgue. "I'm just very scared what happened to him."
Others crowded around hospital notice boards pouring over lists of the dead and wounded posted by police. To help, the Bombay police force on Wednesday listed the names on its Web site.
However, many still remained unidentified.
Regular Bombay residents tried to help in any way they could. Long lines of people waiting to donate blood formed at hospitals.
Pakistan, India's rival over the disputed territory of Kashmir, quickly condemned the bombings, but analysts said a Kashmiri link could slow - or even derail - the peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.
In Washington, a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the events were still unfolding said the coordination of Tuesday's attacks and the targeting of trains at peak travel times match the modus operandi of two Islamic groups active in India during the last several years: Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The U.S. government has designated both terrorist organizations and considers them affiliates of al-Qaida.
Two Kashmiri militant groups deny playing any role in bombings that ripped through Bombay's commuter trains.
Suspicion for the blasts quickly fell on Kashmiri militants, who have repeatedly used near-simultaneous explosions to attack Indian cities.
But two of the main Islamic militant groups in the Himalayan region - Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen - condemned the bombings in separate statements released Wednesday. They both insisted they had nothing to do with the Bombay bombings or a series of grenade attacks in Kashmir that killed eight people earlier the same day.
A spokesman for Lashkar, Abdullah Ghaznavi, said in a statement that "these dastardly acts were perpetrated by the enemies of humanity."
"Indian security forces blame Lashkar in an attempt to defame Kashmir freedom struggle," he said, echoing a familiar charge made by the militants when they are accused of carrying out attacks against Indian civilians.
"We do not believe in killing innocent civilians," Ghaznavi said.
The Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen militant group also condemned the blasts and said in a statement that "Mujahedeen cannot be involved in such heinous crimes."
* Phone number for the Israeli consulate in Bombay: +91-22-228-228-22