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Seven Muslims freed on bail in bomb case

Seven Indian Muslims have been released on bail, five years after their arrest over a deadly bomb attack later blamed on Hindu extremists.

MUMBAI // Seven Indian Muslims were released on bail yesterday, five years after being arrested over a deadly bomb attack that was later blamed on Hindu extremists.

The men were accused of being members of a banned Islamist militant group, the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), which was initially said to be behind the attack in the former mill town of Malegaon in western India.

Four bombs went off on September 8, 2006, outside a mosque in the town, which is 280 kilometres north-east of Mumbai, as thousands of Muslims gathered for Friday prayers.

Thirty-one people were killed and more than 300 were injured.

Police said at the time that the bombings, which came just seven weeks after a series of train blasts in Mumbai killed nearly 190 people and injured more than 800, were designed to create "communal tension".

But federal investigators who reviewed the initial inquiry said this month they would not oppose the men's bail and that there was no direct evidence against them.

They said Hindu radicals were the likely culprits.

The men were greeted by crowds of supporters shouting freedom slogans at Mumbai's high-security Arthur Road jail, where they were being held on remand.

Human Rights Watch said in February that the Indian authorities rounded up scores of Muslim men after a wave of bomb blasts in 2008 and in many cases subjected them to torture and ill-treatment.

The organisation called for a "thorough and impartial" investigation into the arrest and alleged torture in custody of those arrested for the 2006 Malegaon blasts.

The global rights monitor's South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, yesterday welcomed the release, saying: "There should be lessons learnt and compensation given."

Two other men held in connection with the blasts remain in custody as they are also suspects in the 2006 Mumbai train attacks case.