NEW DELHI // The Indian government was under pressure yesterday to explain why it had not been able to prevent bomb blasts in Hyderabad that killed 16 people, despite possessing intelligence that such attacks were imminent.
The blasts in the crowded Dilsukhnagar district on Thursday also injured at least 119 people.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the technique of the bombings - improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed on parked bicycles - has suggested the hand of the Indian Mujahideen, a banned militant group that has carried out similar attacks in the past.
India's security apparatus had strong indications that an Indian Mujahideen attack was imminent, with some intelligence even pointing specifically to Dilsukhnagar as the site.
Indian Mujahideen operatives arrested and interrogated by Delhi Police in October, in connection with an earlier attack in Pune, had revealed that they had conducted a reconnaissance of Dilsukhnagar as a possible future target, according to the Delhi police commissioner SN Shrivastava.
On Wednesday, based on British intelligence that had surveyed the country during prime minister David Cameron's visit, India's Intelligence Bureau had issued a general nationwide alert, and on the morning of the blasts, India's home ministry sent specific alerts to the cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Hubli, warning of possible bomb attacks, according to home ministry officials.
However, Sushil Kumar Shinde, India's home minister, appeared to contradict the report. He insisted that while his ministry did receive information in the two days leading up to the attack that a blast may take place, "there was no input about which city would be targeted".
Yesterday India's parliament descended into uproar as opposition leaders demanded explanations for the government's ineffectiveness in preventing the Hyderabad attacks.
The government, for its part, remained obdurate in refusing to answer questions. In the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, the deputy speaker declared that, as Mr Shinde had already made a statement in parliament, there would no discussion about the blasts.
In his statement, Mr Shinde merely summarised the previous day's events, adding that his government would "make all possible efforts to apprehend the perpetrators and masterminds behind the blasts".
"If they had specific information, what were the central government and the state government doing? Why was nothing done to prevent such an incident?" asked Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha.
Even one of the allies of the governing coalition, the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, voiced his displeasure.
"The government must explain what shortcomings are there that such attacks are taking place," Mr Yadav said in parliament. "Even after we had the information, how can an incident like this take place?"
Outside parliament, however, experts and analysts were more sympathetic to the government's challenge in preventing such attacks.
"We've heard this many times, that intelligence inputs point to something that will happen in Hyderabad," said Mazher Hussain, executive director of the Hyderabad-based Confederation of Voluntary Associations, which promotes dialogue across religious groups.
Mr Hussain's office, in the old city of Hyderabad, is just seven kilometres from the site of the blasts.
But intelligence inputs are "vague and routine. They are not actionable," Mr Hussain said.
Gurmeet Kanwal, a former army brigadier attached to the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, also said that "there was no intelligence failure per se".
"We knew the threat we were faced with," Mr Kanwal said. "We were able to point to the cities that were under risk. But it is extremely difficult to pick out something like a bicycle and a tiffin carrier, which are ubiquitous in these busy places and markets. It is fairly easy to get away with it with these homemade devices."
The type of explosive used - ammonium nitrate, freely available as fertiliser - could do extensive damage just by being fitted with a simple arming device, Mr Kanwal noted. In such cases, "the terrorists can choose the blast site, the time and the place. They have the initiative, the advantage."
The government was further pushed on to the defensive by the condition of surveillance equipment and the lax state of investigative procedure.
Two closed-circuit TV cameras that had been installed near the blast site had not been working for days, according to reports.
One police officer also told the Press Trust of India that "the scene was largely disturbed, as a large number of people moved freely even before we could totally sanitise the two spots."
"A lot of evidence virtually got trampled due to movement of VIPs, including the chief minister, a large number of media personnel, and curious onlookers," he said.