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20 killed, 98 injured in Delhi bomb attacks

INDIA: Indian police said Sunday that 20 people were killed and close to 100 injured in a string of coordinated bomb attacks that ripped through busy shopping areas in the capital.

The blasts on Saturday evening struck five crowded areas of New Delhi within 45 minutes, and were claimed by a Muslim militant group calling itself the 'Indian Mujahideen.'

A further three bombs, also placed in crowded areas of the capital, were found and defused, Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.

One had been placed at India Gate, one of the country's most iconic monuments and a major tourist attraction in the heart of Delhi.

"We have very vital clues, positive clues, we are very hopeful we will solve this case," he said, confirming that the latest toll stood at 20 dead and 98 injured.

Indian television channels said several suspects were detained in overnight raids, but gave no further details.

The bombs were of varying intensity and the targeted locations in south and central Delhi were all packed with evening shoppers.

Two of the blasts hit Connaught Place - the city's largest financial and commercial centre - while two more hit the upmarket shopping district of Greater Kailash.

A fifth ripped through a busy electronics and automobile components market.

A bomb disposal expert said the devices appeared to have been packed with steel ball bearings and nuts and bolts "to cause maximum harm."

"Everything turned black in front of me," said one witness, Gulab Singh, who was in Connaught Place when one of the bombs exploded.

"I saw at least one woman almost flying in the sky, hurled by the deafening blast which we heard. There was a stampede by panic-stricken people. Many fell down and some were trampled on."

India went on high alert after the blasts, boosting security at airports, rail stations and city centres. The Delhi metro was also shut.

In an email sent to several media outlets minutes before the first blast the Indian Mujahideen challenged authorities to "stop us if you can."

Little is known about the origins and make-up of the militant group, which had also claimed responsibility for a wave of bombings in July that killed at least 45 people in the western commercial city of Ahmedabad and the southern technology hub of Bangalore.

Security services suspect it may be a front for groups banned by the Indian government over the past few years such as the Students' Islamic Movement of India.

Others say it could also be a loose coalition of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed militant groups.

The email threat was traced to a Mumbai suburb, reports said. A similar email sent before the Ahmedabad bombings was also sent via a hacked wireless connection in the suburbs of Mumbai.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed that "the challenge posed by terrorism and communalism would be fought tooth and nail," while President Pratibha Patil denounced what she described as a "mindless act of violence."

Triple blasts in New Delhi in October 2005, blamed on Pakistan-backed Islamic rebel groups, claimed nearly 70 lives, while a 2001 attack on India's national parliament complex also blamed on Muslim militants killed 14 people.

Pakistan's new President Asif Ali Zardari condemned Saturday's attacks.

New Delhi, Sunday, AFP

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