Indian leader says there may be terrror link to bombings

NEW DELHI (AP) – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Pakistan’s president Monday there were indications of a foreign link to the bombings that struck two New Delhi markets, and he reminded the Pakistani leader of his country’s promise to fight terrorism, an official said.

In Pakistan, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the bombings that killed 59 people and injured 210 others Saturday as “a dastardly terrorist attack,” and said Pakistan would fully cooperate in any investigation.

Pakistan-based Islamic militants have been suspected in the bombings, but Indian officials have been hesitant to immediately place blame. Indian analysts and newspapers, meanwhile, have pointed the finger at Pakistani-based groups fighting to wrest divided Kashmir from India.

A little-known group that police say has ties to militants in Kashmir claimed responsibility Sunday for the bombings. A third bomb that targeted a bus did not kill anyone but injured nine people.

Musharraf called Singh to express his condolences, and Singh told him that the investigation indicated “external linkages of terrorist groups” to the attacks, said Sanjaya Baru, a spokesman for the Indian leader. Singh also pointed out “Pakistan’s commitment to ending cross-border terrorism,” Baru said.

At a news conference near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Musharraf said: “Pakistan stands with India.” He added that the deadly earthquake that devastated Kashmir was an opportunity for the countries to advance negotiations over their conflicting claims to the Himalayan region.

“I think this is an opportunity which we should utilize for moving ahead” on a final solution for Kashmir, he said, repeating his willingness to demilitarize the region.

The attacks came at a particularly sensitive moment as India and Pakistan hashed out an unprecedented agreement to partially open the heavily militarized frontier that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir to speed relief to victims of the region’s Oct. 8 earthquake. The border deal was finalized early Sunday.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the subcontinent was partitioned at independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir.

Accusations of Pakistani involvement in a 2001 attack on India’s parliament put the nuclear-armed rivals on the brink of a fourth war. But they pulled back and both sides now appear intent on maintaining the momentum toward peace despite the latest attacks.

On Sunday, a man called a news agency in Indian Kashmir claiming the militant group Islamic Inquilab Mahaz, or Front for Islamic Uprising, had staged the bombings. New Delhi’s deputy police chief, Karnail Singh, said the group has ties with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the most feared of the dozens of Kashmiri militant groups.

The caller, who identified himself as Ahmed Yaar Ghaznavi, said the bombings were “meant as a rebuff to the claims of Indian security groups” that militants had been wiped out by security crackdowns and the quake.

Police in Indian Kashmir said intelligence agencies were not familiar with the caller’s name and the government refused to comment on the claim of responsibility.

On Monday, wary New Delhi residents returned to work, but the crowds were thin at the Sorojini Nagar market, one of the two markets targeted on the eve of the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.

“Normally on this day, the day before Diwali, you won’t get any place in my shop to stand,” said Harsh Goplan, who runs a clothing store. “The fact that I am here taking to you, talking to other journalists, says it all _ that there are no customers today.”

At the market and throughout New Delhi, security was tight. Dozens of police patrolled the streets, most armed with assault weapons.

Sarojini Nagar _ considered the city’s favorite shopping hub _ was busier on Sunday, with some shoppers saying they had come to defy the attackers.

“We came here to express solidarity,” said Shibani Mahalanobis, a 66-year-old grandmother who has shopped in the market for 45 years.

Authorities said they already had gathered useful clues about the bombings. Police said they were questioning numerous people.

Police were looking for a man in his 20s who refused to buy a ticket on a bus and got off, leaving behind a large black bag, said Singh, the deputy police chief. The bag caused a panic onboard, prompting the driver and conductor to throw it from the bus just as it exploded, injuring them both and seven others.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has urged the government to review what it called its “soft border” policy with Pakistan.

Under the deal struck Sunday, people will be able to cross the frontier in Kashmir at five points starting Nov. 7 to help get food, shelter and medicine to victims of the quake, which killed about 80,000 people and left 3 million homeless, mostly in Pakistan.


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