New Delhi: Serial explosions have once again rocked the Corporate Capital of India–Mumbai, claiming at least 18 lives and injuring over 100 persons.The explosions were reported in Dadar, Zaveri Bazaar and Opera House on Wednesday evening at 7 pm, a grim reminder of 26/11 when 166 people were killed.

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Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said 21 people had died in the back-to-back explosions which struck in a span of 14 minutes, apparently aimed at causing maximum casualties during the peak hour.

Union Home Minister P Chidamabaram said the quick succession of the blasts showed that it was a "coordinated attack by terrorists."

All the explosions were triggered by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), a Home Ministry official said, adding 113 were injured.

The first explosion rocked Zaveri Bazar, a popular jewellery market, at 6.50 pm and a minute later another blast shook the busy business area Opera House. A third blast ripped through crowded Dadar area in Central Mumbai at 7.04 pm.

The blast sites were splattered with blood as some bodies lay strewn around while cars and motorcyles were charred in the impact of the explosions in the country's financial capital.

The terror strike which revived memories of the Mumbai attack that left 166 dead coincided with the 24th birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman in the carnage. Kasab has been sentenced to death.

No group claimed responsibility but Mumbai police suspects the hand of Indian Mujahideen(IM). Chavan declined to speculate on who could be behind the attack.         

Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik said the blasts at Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar were of a higher intensity than the one at Dadar.

"It is a terror act. Quite obvious that some terror element is involved in the attack. Zaveri Bazaar blast exploded with use of IED kept in an abandoned umbrella. All three blasts occurred between 6.50 and 7 pm," Patnaik said.

All the injured have suffered burn injuries.

The explosions struck this metropolis two days after the fifth anniversary of the serial train blasts here that had left 186 dead and 800 injured.

While the blast in Zaveri Bazaar was triggered through explosives planted in an umbrella, the one in Dadar West was caused by an explosive device concealed in a meter box of the electric cabinet of a BEST bus stop. Preliminary reports said that the explosives were kept inside a Maruti Esteem in the Dadar blast.  Police late Wednesday said the blast at Dadar was of low intensity.

The umbrella was apparently used to camouflage the explosive during the downpour being witnessed in the city, in the bustling Khau Gali in Zaveri Bazaar, according to Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik.

The scene of the blast in Dadar is less than a kilometre from the headquarters of hardline saffron outfit Shiv Sena.

The Opera House blast took place at Prasad Chamber building where a loud explosion was heard around 6.45 pm and people ran helter-skelter in blood-soaked clothes with shards of glass strewn all over the area.

The blast at Khau Gali in Dadar, outside the `Mohanbhai' stall, left several mutilitated bodies lying in a pool of blood.

"The entire lane was splashed with blood...There were 4-5 mutilated bodies lying around and people were fleeing the spot in fear," said Vijay, a carpenter.

According to Jayant Patil, guardian minister for Mumbai, 29 injured were brought to Harkishandas hospital from Opera House of whom six were serious.

At St Georges hospital, co-director Pravin Shingare said of the nine admitted there one was in a critical condition, while among 19 admitted to GT Hospital one was serious.

Seven injured at Dadar have been admitted to KEM Hospital, while several others are undergoing treatment at Saifee and JJ Hospitals.

Two teams of CFSL from Delhi and Hyderabad have been rushed to Mumbai where NSG and NIA personnel are assisting the local police in investigations.

The city has been put on a high alert with pickets erected at several places, city police commissioner Arup Patnaik said.

Blasts look pre-planned: Ashok Chavan

Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan described the serial explosions that rocked Mumbai as unfortunate and said it looked as if the bombings that killed around 10 people and left scores injured were pre-planned.

Chavan, who took over the reigns of the state right after the 26/11 bombings, told a news channel, “The blasts have shaken up Mumbai again. It is rather unfortunate. Let's hope those who are responsible are caught.”

He said the blasts looked pre-planned.

He said that post the 26/11 attacks in which 166 people were killed 'all the flaws and systems had to be strengthened'. But 'inspite of all this things are happening, which means that more has to be done. A lot of introspection is needed.'

Hospitals struggle to cope with victims

Chaos reigned at various hospitals here with over 100 injured people being rushed for treatment after serial bomb blasts rocked the metropolis this evening.

Most of those wounded were taken to JJ, St George, GT, KEM and Harkishandas hospitals as the medical staff scrambled to tackle the sudden medical emergency.

Several of them were referred from one hospital to another after they failed to secure a place due to large number of victims pouring in from the blast sites at Dadar, Zaveri Bazaar and Opera House.

People queued up at hospitals to verify whether their friends or relatives were among the injured, while some were seen donating blood and helping hospital authorities.

At state-run J J Hospital, 17 injured were admitted of which one died during treatment. At Harkishandas Hospital, 29 persons, injured at the blast at Opera House, were brought, sources said.

At St Georges Hospital, nine persons were admitted of which one is said to be in a serious condition. One of the injured, identified as Lalchand Ahuja (45), later died. Some of the injured were identified as Pradeep Jano, Ashok Patil, Nikhil Tanka and Sundar Singh, hospital officials said.

"All the injured have suffered severe burns and their body parts have been crushed," Pravin Shingare, Co-Director of St George Hospital, said.

As many as 19 persons were brought to G T Hospital, the sources said, adding that one of them is said to be in a serious condition.

Seven persons from Dadar blast site were being treated at KEM Hospital. Six of them were identified as Shirish Kandalgaonkar, Loria D'Souza, Varsha Thokarsi, Manekshah Vishwakarma, Dhananjay Govindhadhikari and Ganpat Bhovad.

"There are five dead in Saifee Hospital and four in Harkishandas Hospital," Leader of Opposition in State Assembly, Eknath Khadse told reporters outside JJ Hospital.

Rains may wash off evidence

The probe into the synchronized blasts may hit a stumbling block as heavy rains lashed the area, triggering fears that crucial evidence may be lost before being collected by the forensic experts.

Forensic experts of Maharashtra and from Central Forensic Laboratory Delhi have reached here and were working to locate the vital clues of these blasts when the downpour started.

"It may not have much effect but some evidence may be washed away," a police officer said.

Anti-Terror Squad of Mumbai police armed with sophisticated gadgets and sniffer dogs swamped the area and sleuths were trying to ensure that no damage be done to forensic evidence including blood and explosive samples.

Chronology of blasts in Mumbai

March 12, 1993: A series of bomb blasts rip through 13 places in the city, killing 257 people and injuring 713.

December 2, 2002: Two persons were killed and 31 injured in a powerful explosion in a bus outside the crowded Ghatkopar railway station. The blast ripped through the bus damaging its rear portion. Banned Students Islamic Movement of India was suspected to be behind the blast with the police arresting more than six persons in this case.

December 6, 2002: 25 people were injured in a bomb blast at McDonalds fast food restaurant at Mumbai Central railway station. The bomb was planted in the airconditioner duct. It was suspected to be a crude bomb.

January 27, 2003: At least 30 people were injured when a bomb planted on a bicycle went off throwing splinters of sharp nails outside Vile Parle railway station. The explosion occurred near a shopping complex in the evening hours. On the ill-fated day, all the shops in the area were closed for a weekly holiday. Later, a woman succumbed to injuries.

March 13, 2003: A powerful bomb blast shattered a bogie of a local train at Mulund railway station in the peak hours killing 11 people and injuring more than 65. This was the most powerful serial explosion.

In all these blasts, the hand of SIMI was suspected and more than 20 people have been arrested under Prevention of Terrorism Act. They have been charged with waging a war against the nation and participating in a conspiracy to create a series of blasts.

July 11, 2006: The deadliest series of blasts to rock the city which left 63 dead. 7 serial blasts in suburban trains on Tuesday evening paralysed the city.

 (JPN/Agencies)