India probes Delhi blasts

September 15, 2008 12:00 am

, NEW DELHI, September 15 – Indian police planned to release sketches Monday of suspects behind New Delhi bombings that left more than 20 dead, as criticism grew over the lack of a coherent national counter-terrorism policy.

Karnal Singh, a senior police official investigating the five bombs that ripped through crowded markets in the Indian capital on Saturday, said several people had been taken in for questioning but no arrests had been made.

The attacks were claimed by the Indian Mujahideen, a shadowy Muslim militant group that also owned responsibility for bombings in July that killed at least 45 people in the cities of Ahmedabad and Bangalore.

"We hope to release suspect sketches today," Singh said.

The Delhi blasts were the fourth in a major Indian city in as many months, and have refuelled debate over the ability of the security and intelligence forces to prevent such attacks and bring those responsible to justice.

"We are at war," was the blunt assessment of an editorial in the Times of India. "When a country is at war, there cannot be any half measures to hit back and contain the enemy."

The newspaper said the time had come for India’s political parties to cast aside their differences and "put their heads together to figure out a counter-strategy for which consensus will be essential."

In 2004, India’s new Congress-led government scrapped an anti-terror law introduced by its Hindu nationalist predecessor after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Congress argued that the legislation, which gave sweeping powers to the police, was being misused to settle political scores.

At the time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed that repealing the law would not weaken the country’s ability to combat terrorism, but the recent spate of attacks has challenged that assertion.

"More than four years into its term, the government’s record on this account is looking even more shocking," the Indian Express newspaper said.

"They have simply not done enough to bring closure to any of the terrorist incidents of the past four years, to follow leads thoroughly, to crack the organisations behind the incidents," the Express said.

The Hindustan Times accused both the government and opposition of being too willing to "woefully sacrifice national consensus against a common enemy" at the altar of political one-upmanship.

"Going by the way we conduct our post-attack investigations and put into place barriers against future attacks, one would be forgiven for thinking we are new to terrorism," it said.

Police said the death toll from Saturday’s blasts had risen to 22, while some of the scores injured remained in critical condition.

The toll could have been higher as three more bombs were defused, including a device found near India Gate, one of the country’s most iconic monuments and a major tourist attraction in the heart of Delhi.

The federal government held a top-level security meeting on Sunday which, according to Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, discussed "various measures" that may be needed in Delhi and other major cities.

However, The Hindu newspaper said it was clear that India’s police and intelligence services "simply do not have the resources they need to confront an urban terror offensive, unprecedented in its scale and significance."

In the past, India has blamed neighbouring Pakistan for orchestrating attacks on Indian soil, but the emergence of the Indian Mujahideen has forced authorities to confront the spectre of an effective, home-grown militant force.

Security experts say the formation of the outfit may be an effort to create a fresh identity for groups banned by the Indian government over the past few years such as the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

SIMI, founded over 30 years ago, was outlawed in 2001 over its alleged terror links and is currently challenging the ban in the Supreme Court.


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