NEW DELHI — The Indian capital was rocked by terrorist attacks on Saturday as a series of synchronized explosions hit five crowded markets and thoroughfares, including Connaught Place, a tourist destination in the heart of the city.
Shivraj Patil, India’s home minister, said 18 people had been killed. Scores were wounded — in one hospital alone, more than 50 casualties were wheeled in within two hours of the blasts. The police and government officials called for calm, and the streets of the capital turned quiet Saturday night.
The bombings were the latest in a series of terrorist attacks in cities across the country apparently intended to sow panic, inflict civilian casualties and, according to Indian officials, inflame tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
In the past three years, mosques and temples have been attacked. The attacks on Saturday took place during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
“I can just say that these blasts have been planned by the enemies of the country, and they will be taught a lesson,” Sriprakash Jaiswal, the junior home minister, told reporters at one of the blast sites.
A group called Indian Mujahedeen sent an e-mail message to television stations earlier in the evening, warning of the attacks. The group has claimed responsibility for several other deadly bombings across India in recent years.
Terrorist attacks have loomed large over politics here as national elections approach. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has criticized the Congress Party-led coalition government for its inability to prevent bombings like those that hit the capital on Saturday.
Along with inflation, which has risen sharply in recent months, the attacks are a major point of vulnerability for the incumbent administration. There have been few arrests related to the attacks.
On Saturday, the first blast went off shortly after 6 p.m. in a market in the Karol Bagh neighborhood, where explosives were apparently stuffed in a three-wheeled rickshaw, the police said.
Next was an explosion in a public trash can outside a busy subway station near Connaught Place, followed by one in Central Park, a popular, recently renovated patch of green in the heart of Connaught Place.
Manoj Kumar, who works for a telephone company, was walking across Central Park on his way home from work when he heard a loud explosion and saw nearly a dozen wounded stumble and fall. A woman’s hand was blown off, he said.
Several of the wounded then made their way to a street on the edge of the circular park.
Chanchal Kumar was driving along that road when he saw the wounded sitting on a sidewalk. He ferried them to the nearest hospital, seven in all, over two trips. By the end of the ordeal, he said, his clothes were bloodstained.
The police said at least two unexploded bombs were found in and around the same area.
Two other blasts followed in a market in a South Delhi neighborhood.
The Indian Mujahedeen also claimed credit for serial bombings in the western city of Ahmedabad in July that killed 49 and wounded more than 200. In that attack, 17 back-to-back explosions struck shoppers on a Saturday evening, then two blasts hit the very hospitals where the wounded and their relatives rushed for help.
Ahmedabad is the commercial center of Gujarat State, where nearly 1,000 Muslims were killed by Hindus in 2002, in one of the worst outbreaks of religious violence in India’s history. In its warning, the Indian Mujahedeen said the attacks were “in revenge of Gujarat.”
The group also said it was responsible for blasts in July in Bangalore, the southern technology hub, killing one, and for bombs that killed 56 people in the historic western city of Jaipur in May.
Almost three years ago, a series of blasts hit open-air bazaars here, killing more than 60. At the time, local police officials said a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for the attacks.