x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

India on alert after serial blasts

Authorities scour Indian city for those responsible for a series of bomb explosions that killed at least 45 people.

A woman visits her son at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad.
A woman visits her son at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad.

NEW DELHI // Indian leaders appealed for calm and placed the country on high alert today after a series of explosions killed at least 45 people in Ahmedabad, the capital of western Gujarat state, where deadly Muslim-Hindu riots left hundreds dead six years ago. Sixteen bombs ripped though markets, bus stops and hospitals on Saturday evening in the city, injuring another 160 people. It was the second bombing in as many days and has raised fears of the renewed sectarian violence that has plagued India since its independence from Britain in 1947. Cities across India were placed on high alert and security was intensified at airports, railway stations and markets, local television channels reported. Bomb squads defused three bombs today, while authorities in Surat, a city about 255km south of Ahmedabad, found a car carrying detonators and a liquid police suspect may be ammonium nitrate, a chemical often used in explosive devices, the city's police chief, RMS Barar, said, according to reports. A group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the Ahmedabad bombings in an email sent to about 20 media organisations a few minutes before the first devices were detonated. "Await 5 minutes for the revenge of Gujarat," the subject line of the email said. "In the name of Allah the Indian Mujahideen strike again! Do whatever you can, within 5 minutes from now, feel the terror of death!" The group did not did not mention Friday's attack in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka stake, in which two people were killed and it was not clear if the two events were connected. The Indian Mujahideen was unknown before November last year when it said it was behind a series of court bombings which killed 13 people in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. In May, the group also claimed responsibility for eight synchronised blasts that killed at least 61 in the historic city of Jaipur in Rajasthan state. Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka are all governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rose to prominence by campaigning for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992. Gujarat hit the headlines in 2002 when Narendra Modi, the state's chief minister and senior BJP figure, was accused of doing little to stop rioting that saw 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed and up to 150,000 displaced. There is a long history of communal violence in India, whose population of 1.1 billion is about 80 per cent Hindu and 13 per cent Muslim. "The land of Mahatma Gandhi has been bloodied by terrorists whom we shall not spare," Mr Modi told journalists. "Terrorists are waging a war against India. We should be prepared for a long battle against terrorism." Pratibha Patil, the president, expressed her "grief and sorrow" and also appealed to the people of Ahmedabad to "maintain peace and harmony" in a statement released on her website. Security experts said they believed the Indian Mujahideen was likely to be a front organisation for other Islamic groups with links to Pakistan, India's nuclear armed rival with whom it has fought three wars. Last week, Shivshankar Menon, India's foreign secretary, said the peace process with Pakistan was "under threat" after New Delhi blamed "elements within Pakistan" for a suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul earlier this month. Kanchan Lakshman, a Pakistan and Kashmir specialist at the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, said the bombings bore the hallmarks of professionals. "It would take up to two years to carry out an attack such as this," he said. Police and officials said the first spate of bombs were hidden in Tiffin boxes - small metal lunch containers - strapped to the back of bikes and detonated with timers in Ahmedabad's crowded old city. A second batch was timed to go off about 20 minutes later outside two hospitals struggling to deal with the injured, they said. All the devices were packed with nuts, bolts and metal ball bearings and one may have been attached to a gas canister, they said. Two doctors were also killed in the blast, they said, and local television channels showed victims writhing in pain and covered in blood on hospital floors. As many as 3,000 army personnel were brought in to patrol Ahmedabad today and the state government also ordered the closure of all shops, cinemas and markets and told people to stay at home. Police in Ahmedabad rounded up about 30 people in connection with the attacks, while authorities in Mumbai raided an apartment after tracing the email back to the city, television channel CNN-IBN reported. @email:hgardner@thenational.ae