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Friday, September 08, 2006


30 killed, 50 wounded in blasts near Indian mosque
by Paul Peachey.MUMBAI (AFP) - Some 30 people were killed and 50 injured when two bombs exploded as hundreds of Muslims poured out of a mosque and graveyard in western India, the federal government announced.

One bomb carried on the back of a bicycle went off as the faithful left the Nurani mosque in the rural town of Malegaon, the home ministry said.

The mosque was packed for Friday prayers on the festival of Shab-e-Barat.

"The death toll from the blasts is 30 and 50 others have been injured," Home Secretary V.K. Duggal told reporters in New Delhi.

Television pictures showed men and boys trampling on bloodied bodies as they battled to escape through the tunnel entrance to the walled mosque compound.

The panicked crowds stumbled and jumped over bodies strewn across the tunnel entrance.

Bystanders hauled children to safety as survivors loaded bodies into sheets and onto hand carts in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

Groaning injured men and women lay with the dead in the streets.

Malegaon chief health officer Bharat Wagh had earlier told AFP some 125 people had been hurt.

Police said one blast was heard at 1:50 pm (0820 GMT) near a graveyard on a day when Muslims traditionally remember their ancestors and offer prayers at their graves. It is a key date ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Muslims believe that all sins will be forgiven by praying to Allah throughout Shab-e-Barat, the Night of Blessing.

Duggal said one of the blasts had been caused by explosives concealed in a tin box tied to the back of a bicycle.

"No one has taken responsibility for the blasts ... details are still sketchy," Duggal said.

A curfew was declared as state politicians from western Maharashtra and police teams headed to the area, some 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of the economic centre of Mumbai.

Police were on high alert across the state and mobile telephone networks in the town were down.

"I am confirming some blasts," police chief P.K. Jain told NDTV news channel. "I do not know what has caused the blasts."

In New Delhi, the national government alerted state administrations to prevent Hindu-Muslim violence after the blasts.

New Delhi dispatched federal troops including its elite Rapid Action Force to Malegaon where casualties were taken to three hospitals.

"Most of the people had head and neck injuries," said Narendra Sonavane, a party worker for India's ruling coalition who visited one of the hospitals. "The situation is still very tense."

The area has a history of communal tension between Hindus and Muslims, and extra officers were drafted in to try to ensure calm in the town, which has a majority Muslim population.

D.K. Sankaran, the state's chief secretary, said police had been stoned by an angry mob.

"Things are fairly tense but under control," he told CNN-IBN channel. "A curfew has been declared."

Anti-terrorist police seized explosives and guns in the town in May in a swoop on a suspected Islamic militant cell.

Malegaon used to be a wealthy textile town but a slump in the industry has caused high unemployment.

The blast came two months after an attack on seven trains in Mumbai that killed 186 people and was blamed on Islamic militants.

Mumbai joint commissioner of police Arup Patnaik said that Mumbai had been put on a high state of alert. "We have to be very vigilant," he told NDTV.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week warned chief ministers of spiralling left wing and ethnic unrest and of terror groups operating in India.

He said intelligence agencies had warned of further violent attacks including on religious targets and vital installations.

The premier also asked law enforcement officials to counter a sense of alienation among India's 140 million Muslims.

India has been hit by a series of bomb attacks including on the holiest Hindu city of Varanasi earlier this year and last October's bombings of New Delhi shopping malls.

The Malegaon blasts come four days before verdicts are to be announced for 123 defendants in a long-running trial linked to 1993 bomb attacks in Mumbai that killed 257.

The series of blasts in 1993 in the city were blamed on a group of underworld figures and Islamic militants, and were allegedly in retaliation for nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots between December 1992 and January 1993.

Islamic separatist militancy has taken root in divided Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed in full by both India and Pakistan.

Written by AP. It has been rewritten here in case the original article disappears.

Category: Pakistan and India.

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