Car bombs exploded at a crowded jewelry market and a historic landmark in Mumbai on Monday, killing at least 44 people, wounding 150 others and shaking buildings in India’s financial capital, The Associated Press reports.
The bombs, hidden in the trunks of two taxis, blew up within five minutes of each other, police said, the AP reports. Several people were being interrogated, including one taxi driver.
Police were focusing their investigation on Muslim militant groups.
“There are many jehadi groups out, let loose by the enemy country,” Ranjit Sharma, a police commissioner reportedly said. Jehadi groups are operated by Islamic militants.
The “enemy country” was a clear reference to Pakistan, India’s longtime rival. Such an accusation could threaten to increase tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors, though Pakistani officials quickly denounced the attack as “wanton targeting of civilians.”
Sharma specifically mentioned the Students Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, a militant students’ group outlawed in September 2001, and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, one of more than a dozen Islamic rebel groups fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989, seeking independence for the divided Himalayan province or its merger with Muslim dominated Pakistan, the AP reports.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the lunchtime bombings, which came hours after the release of a long-anticipated archaeological report on a religious site in northern India claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. The dispute has been linked to previous bombings.
However, the attacks appeared aimed more at the city itself—the nation’s financial heart— than at members of a particular religion, the AP reports.
One of the bombs exploded at the Gateway of India, a well-known historic landmark and popular lunchtime eating spot frequented by both Hindus and Muslims. The other was at a crowded neighborhood of jewelry stores, where many shops are owned by Hindus but many of the artisans are Muslims.
“The explosions were aimed at targeting the economic activity of the city, as well as Mumbai as a tourist destination,” Sushil Kumar Shinde, chief minister of Maharashtra, the state where Mumbai is located, reportedly said at a press conference. “The blasts have thrown up a challenge to the resilience of this city,” he said at a press conference, urging people not to panic.
Telephone lines were jammed and mobile phone services briefly crashed as panicked residents called family and friends. Police issued security alerts for Mumbai and the Indian capital, New Delhi, calling policemen back from leave in case of further trouble.
The death toll totaled 44 by early evening, Sharma reportedly said. Javed Ahmed, a police commissioner for Mumbai, reportedly said at least 150 people were injured.
Asked if the explosions could have been to avenge killings last year in the western state of Gujarat – violence sparked by reaction to the disputed religious site – Ahmed reportedly said: “It could be that.”
Pakistan, with whom India has engaged in decades of bloodshed, condemned the attacks. The neighbors have fought three wars – two over the divided region of Kashmir – and nearly started a fourth last year. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of supporting militants, which Islamabad denies.
“We deplore these attacks and we sympathize with the victims and their families,” Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said. “I think that such wanton targeting of civilians should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”