Bombs kill at least 32 in India

Iran Materials 9 September 2006 10:17 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - A series of bomb blasts in a Muslim-majority town in western India killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 70, mostly worshippers at Friday prayers, police said, reports Trend.

The blasts came days after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said intelligence agencies had warned of more terrorist attacks across the country, possibly on economic and religious targets as well as on nuclear installations.

The bombs hit Malegaon town in the western state of Maharashtra as thousands of Muslims gathered at a burial ground for special Friday prayers, police said.

"I was finishing my Friday prayers when I heard the explosions ... there was chaos everywhere. I saw three or four bodies and blood all over. People were running all over," Shafiq, a man who gave only one name, told NDTV news network.

"Whoever did this is a traitor, whether he is a Hindu or Muslim, and should be hanged in this town square," he said.

There were two explosions at the burial ground and a third in a town square around 1:50 p.m. (0820 GMT), according to reports from the town, 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Mumbai, India's financial hub.

"Bomb explosions took place in the graveyard which was very crowded at that time," Junior Home Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal told reporters.

Maharashtra police told Reuters 32 people were killed and more than 70 wounded. But the Press Trust of India news agency quoted the state's deputy chief minister, R.R. Patil, as saying 37 were dead and more than 100 wounded.

Although there were no leads reported about the attackers, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said it was apparently the work of "terrorists."

"When any incident of this nature happens, one can really come to the conclusion that this is something perpetrated by the terrorists," Patil said in New Delhi.

"The main design is not only to injure and kill innocent people ... but the bigger design is to see that different sections of society clash and create more difficulties, more turmoil and more bloody situations."

"NIGHT OF ATONEMENT" Television showed pandemonium on the packed streets of Malegaon minutes after the blast. Hundreds of people in white skull caps ran in panic, leaping over bodies prostrate on the ground.

Others carried or dragged away the wounded, many of whom were taken away on handcarts. A fire engine was shown inching its way toward the blast site as hundreds of people ran in the opposite direction.

Friday marked "Shab-e-Barat" or the "night of forgiveness or atonement," when Muslims pray for the dead. They also believe that prayers on the day, which comes just before the holy month of Ramadan, absolve them of sins.

Police said Malegaon, which has a history of religious violence, was tense as groups of people had gathered around the town and were shouting slogans against authorities.

A curfew had been imposed to prevent trouble in the town, a local textile manufacturing center. Nearly three-quarters of Malegaon's 700,000 people belong to India's minority Muslim community.

A Home Ministry official in New Delhi said federal forces, including the Rapid Action Force (RAF) used for riot control, were being rushed to Malegaon.

India has been on a heightened security alert after a series of bombs on commuter trains in Mumbai killed 186 people in July. The attack was blamed on Islamist militant groups with links across the border in Pakistan.

Additional police were also being deployed across Mumbai and the capital New Delhi to prevent any trouble, police said.

Malegaon has suffered religious violence in the past. In May, police recovered a cache of explosives and automatic rifles from the town based on information they said was provided by arrested Islamist militants.