MUMBAI, India — Near-simultaneous bomb blasts rocked three busy neighborhoods during evening rush hour in India's busy financial capital Wednesday, killing 17 people in what the government called an apparent terrorist attack on the city besieged by militants nearly three years ago.
Blood-covered bodies lay on the streets and people hugged and wept. Others carried the wounded to taxis. Crowds gathered in the blast areas as police questioned witnesses, and bomb squads inspected the undercarriages of vehicles searching for clues and other explosives.
Motorcycles were charred, shopfronts shattered and a bus stop ripped apart. A photograph showed victims crowding into the back of a cargo truck to be taken to a hospital.
The first blast struck the Jhaveri Bazaar at 6.54 p.m., tearing through the famed jewelry market. A minute later, a second blast hit the busy business district of Opera House, several miles (kilometers) away in southern Mumbai. At 7:05 p.m., the third bomb exploded in the crowded neighborhood of Dadar in central Mumbai, according to police.
Because of the close timing of the bomb blasts, "we infer that this was a coordinated attack by terrorists," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.
Indian officials refused to speculate on who might be behind the blasts. Past attacks have been blamed on Pakistan-based militants, and Indian officials have accused Pakistan's powerful spy agency of helping coordinate and fund some of those strikes, including the Mumbai siege.
"The entire city of Mumbai has been put on high alert," Chidambaram said. "I would appeal to the people of Mumbai and people all over the country to remain calm and to maintain peace."
An eyewitness at Jhaveri Bazaar described two motorcycles exploding in flames and saw at least six bodies.
"People were shouting 'Help me, help me,'" the man told Headlines Today television.
Another witness showed cell phone clips of several bodies sprawled across the street to the NDTV news station.
Prithviraj Chavan, the top official in the state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai was located, said the blasts killed 17 people and wounded 81 others. Chidambaram said the toll was likely to rise.
The blasts marked the first major attack on Mumbai since 10 militants laid siege to India's financial capital for 60 hours in November 2008.
That attack, which targeted two luxury hotels, a Jewish center and a busy train station, killed 166 people and escalated tensions between India and Pakistan. Peace talks were suspended and resumed only recently.
Pakistan's government expressed distress on the loss of lives and injuries soon after Wednesday's blasts were reported.
Some media incorrectly reported the blasts happened on the birthday of Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunmen from the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Kasab, who was sentenced to death in Mumbai, was born on Sept. 13.
Mumbai has been on edge since the 2008 attack. In December, authorities deployed extra police on city streets after receiving intelligence that a Pakistan-based militant group was planning an attack over New Year's weekend. Police conducted house-to-house searches in some neighborhoods for four men who authorities believe entered the city to carry out a terrorist attack, and computer-aided photographs of the four suspects were released.
In March 2010, Mumbai police said they prevented a major terrorist strike after they arrested two Indian men, who, police said, were preparing to hit several targets in the city. In September, police issued a terror alert for the city during a popular Hindu festival.
Naqvi reported from New Delhi. Associated Press writer Ravi Nessman contributed to this report from New Delhi.