64 killed, over 300 injured in Assam terror bombings (Night Lead)

October 31st, 2008 - 12:35 am ICT by IANS  

Guwahati/New Delhi, Oct 30 (IANS) At least 64 people were killed and over 300 injured Thursday as a series of carefully coordinated bombings shattered the midday bustle of markets in Guwahati and three other districts of India’s Assam state, the latest victim of targeted terror that has taken over 400 lives in the country since 2006.In one of the worst terror attacks in the restive northeast, that has seen a lot of separatist violence in the last couple of decades, 12 bombs went off in less than an hour in Guwahati as well as in the western districts of Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon. More than 300 people were injured, many of whom are in a critical condition.

A police spokesperson said the blasts began at 11.20 a.m. and went off one after another in rapid succession - five in Guwahati, three each in Barpeta and Kokrajhar, and one in Bongaigaon.

“Car bombs could have been used in two instances, while cycles and auto-rickshaws were also used to trigger the blasts. The explosives were packed with highly inflammable substances that led to big fires soon after the blasts,” said Assam government spokesperson Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The police have come with preliminary evidence that the terrorists may have used PE3, an RDX-based plastic explosive used by major terror groups. “We need to ascertain if the ULFA has been aided by other forces or whether the blasts have been carried out jointly by the ULFA and other forces,” said Assam Home Commissioner Subhash Das.

Thick black smoke billowed into the sky and the mangled remains of cars littered Guwahati’s streets as fire brigade personnel and rescue workers rushed in to control the flames.

According to Assam Police intelligence chief Khagen Sharma: “Prima facie, it appears to be a combined attack carried out at the behest of some jihadi forces with the help of local outfits.”

Some officials of the Assam government, which imposed curfew in Guwahati, also pointed the needle of suspicion towards the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Assam’s deadly rebel group and the usual suspects in such violence.

But the outlawed group denied the charge. “We are in no way involved in the blasts,” an ULFA statement said.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi admitted at a press conference in the evening: “I do admit I did not anticipate this kind of a terror strike.”

Police in Assam estimate that more than 33 people were killed in the five blasts in Guwahati - in the bustling Ganeshguri area, Panbazar, Fancy Bazar, Paltan Bazar and outside the district magistrate’s court.

Besides, 20 people were killed in three blasts in crowded marketplaces in Kokrajhar district, about 250 km west of Guwahati, and 11 in Barpeta. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the explosions.

“The area was teeming with people, officer goers, shoppers and vendors when a very big explosion took place,” said Arindam Das, describing the scene in Ganeshguri. “I saw at least six bodies. More than 30 people were lying on the ground and bleeding.

A shocked Sourabh Chowdhary said from nearby Dispur: “Auto-rickshaws were blown away. The fire brigade took one hour to come. The nearby hospital is full of casualties.”

“Some of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition,” Deputy Inspector General of Assam Police G.P. Singh said.

“We don’t know about the nature of explosives or who could be behind the attacks as we are now busy carrying out rescue operations,” he added. As police grappled with the situation, the condemnation was swift and unanimous.

President Pratibha Patil said “all of us should stand united against divisive forces in the country”. “We have to fight those forces that are trying to divide the nation,” added Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was in the Maharashtra town of Nanded to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib.

“People should fight terrorism unitedly,” said the prime minister after the news of the terror attack came in. He represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha and announced compensation of Rs.100,000 for the kin of those killed.

Minister of State for Home Shakeel Ahmad was forthright in condemning the politics of hate that led to the high intensity blasts. Recalling that there was communal clashes in Assam in early October in which 57 people were killed, he said: “Such acts of terror are the result of politics of hate that is being spread in different parts of the country.”

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani blamed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for failing to curb terror and said: “It seems Bangladeshi militants are behind the blasts.”

In New Delhi, harried people from Assam spent anxious moments working the jammed telephone lines.

“I have been trying to get through to my family and relatives for a long time. As the blasts took place, everybody is out. One of the blast sites (in Guwahati) is the main market and my father has to cross it on his way to office,” said Delhi University student Rashik, whose home is behind Guwahati’s Fancy Bazar.

The country has witnessed a spate of bombings in the past few months, including in Ahmedabad on Jul 26, Delhi Sep 13, and earlier in Jaipur on May 13, which together have claimed more than 150 lives.

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