Girl killed, more than 20 injured in Varanasi blast (Intro Night Lead)

December 8th, 2010 - 12:14 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Varanasi/New Delhi, Dec 7 (IANS) A small girl was killed and over 20 people, including a few foreigners, were injured when a bomb exploded on the banks of the Ganga during Tuesday evening’s ‘maha aarti’ watched by hundreds and sparked off a stampede, authorities and witnesses said. Terror group Indian Mujahideen, in an e-mail, claimed responsibility for the blast.

Swastika Sharma succumbed to multiple splinter injuries and was pronounced dead by doctors following the deafening blast on the cemented steps leading to the holy river at the crowded Dashashwamedh Ghat between 6.15 and 6.30 p.m.

A doctor said the girl was two years old.

As security forces went on high alert all across the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denounced the bombing and appealed for peace and calm. He said it was “an attempt to weaken our resolve to fight forces of terrorism”, while Home Minister P. Chidambaram termed it as an “attempt to disturb peace and harmony”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party also condemned the terror attack.

Police officers in Varanasi said an explosive device had apparently been concealed in a crevice on the steps where hundreds of men and women were seated.

As several people fell down bleeding and injured, others desperately tried to escape, triggering a stampede that injured more people.

“It was such a powerful blast that we did not even know what had happened,” said Aveek Kumar Jain, who was at the ghat. “Nobody knew what had happened, whether it was a gas cylinder or a bomb.”

Jain said he saw one foreigner injured in the leg.

A man who suffered head wounds told reporters in the hospital that a nearby wall collapsed because of the impact of the blast.

“I was telling my wife to see the river when this massive blast took place,” he said.

Terror group Indian Mujahideen, blamed for series of terror attacks in India, owned responsibility for the blast, saying it was to avenge the 1992 demolition of Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid.

In an e-mail to media houses soon after the blast, the terror group said: “Indian Mujahideen attribute(s) this attack to the 6th of December that will haunt your nation of world’s ‘greatest demoNcracy’ until Muslims are paid back justly and fairly for the loss of their beloved Babri Masjid, the precious lives of their near and dear ones, their pride, dignity and self-respect.”

The mail was sent from an e-mail ID alfateh00005@gmail.com. The home ministry said it was verifying the authenticity of the e-mail.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai in New Delhi initially called it a “low intensity blast”, but in no time Uttar Pradesh Police officers classified it as a “medium intensity” explosion.

Pillai said the explosion injured four to five people and the “small stampede” that followed left another 15-20 people injured.

“It is too early to say what caused the explosion. We have issued a general alert to all states and told them to be on high alert,” he said.

Blood was splattered at the site of the blast. Devotees fled from there, leaving behind their belongings. Women wailed in pain and panic, and police officers who rushed to the site desperately tried to bring calm.

Policemen and civilians rushed the injured to the nearest government hospital.

In New Delhi, the home ministry’s special secretary for internal security U.K. Bansal said that “one or two foreigners” were among the injured.

Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said in Lucknow they would “work out the case” soon.

“The blast took place when hundreds of people had gathered at the Shitla ghat,” he said.

“It will be premature to make any comment on the nature of the blast. The blast was big enough to cause damage as well as panic and commotion in the entire area,” he said.

Varanasi, about 300 km from Lucknow, is one of the holiest Hindu sites. Twin blasts in the city March 7, 2006 killed 20 people and injured around 100.

Tuesday’s blast took place a day after the 18th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

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