A day after Bangalore, 15 killed in Ahmedabad serial blasts (Roundup)

July 27th, 2008 - 12:36 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi
By V.N. Balakrishna in Ahmedabad and Murali Krishnan in New Delhi
July 26 (IANS) A series of 17 synchronised bombings ripped through Gujarat’s main city of Ahmedabad Saturday evening, a day after terror rocked India’s IT hub Bangalore, leaving at least 15 people dead and over 100 injured, with the central government sounding a nation-wide alert. Officially unconfirmed reports put the toll at 26.

The coordinated bombings with explosives planted in bicycles and in lunch boxes, similar to the eight low-intensity blasts in Bangalore, went off within a span of 70 minutes, setting off panic in congested neighbourhoods in the eastern part of the city including Maninagar, Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency.

“The toll is likely to go up and we are just keeping our fingers crossed that everything remains calm,” said Home Minister Shivraj Patil.

In its 14-page email to media organisations just before the blasts, a little-known terror outfit, Indian Mujahideen, claimed to have taken “revenge of Gujarat in the land of Hind” and threatened to target industrialist Mukesh Ambani and Maharashtra politicians Vilasrao Deshmukh and R.R. Patil in the future.

The same outfit had claimed responsibility for the serial bombings in Uttar Pradesh in November 2007 and the Jaipur blasts in May.

“This is just too disturbingly familiar. All the attacks have a signature and we can conclude safely that the perpetrators are the same. The whole problem is we have not been able to pin it down to any organisation,” a top intelligence official told IANS.

The torrent of blasts not only brought chaos but also demonstrated how an entirely new breed of terrorists had emerged, with Indian investigators unable to get to the bottom of at least nine major terror attacks that have rocked the country.

“We have already sent one expert team to assess the blast situation in Gujarat and one more team is going early tomorrow. We have given orders to our officers to provide whatever the state government requires from us,” said Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta.

The areas targeted in Ahmedabad - within a radius of 10 km - are considered communally sensitive. They are mostly middle class localities with many home to a large population of migrant labour from other parts of Gujarat.

Most of the blasts targeted the city bus service, ripping apart portions of the vehicles.

It took a while for people on an evening stroll in neighbourhoods in the eastern parts of Ahmedabad to realise what was happening as the series of bomb blasts went off at 6.45 p.m.

“At first I only heard an explosion. I did now know what was happening. Suddenly there was chaos all around. Nobody could understand,” recalled a horrified Balakrisha Mehta, a software professional returning home in the Maninagar area, where the first bomb exploded.

“Then we saw several bicycles reduced to twisted metal and realised it was possibly a terror attack,” he added.

The first bomb at Jawahar chowk in Maninagar was followed by a blast at the Hatkeshwar vegetable market that left four dead, police and eye witnesses said.

The next blast went off in neighbouring Thakkarbapanagar claiming four lives. Fifteen minutes later, it was the Sardar Patel Diamond Market in Bapunagar that witnessed two successive blasts leaving four dead.

Soon, there was a blast near the Sarangpur bridge in the Old City area, near the main railway station, followed by three more blasts at Isanpur and Maninagar.

Modi appealed to everyone to remain clam and also announced compensation of Rs.500,000 each to the families of those killed in the blasts. “Terrorists will not succeed,” he declared.

Condemning the blasts, senior Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani demanded that President Pratibha Patil give her assent to Gujarat’s long-pending anti-terror law.

“I would demand the president’s assent to the state laws of Gujarat and Rajasthan akin to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) pending with the (central) government. The Gujarat law has been pending for the last four years,” Advani said.

“I cannot draw any conclusions. The law has been pending for many years and to approve it should be our immediate response,” said Advani, who represents the Gandhinagar constituency, which includes parts of Ahmedabad.

Asked to comment on the fact that recent major terror attacks have targeted three BJP-ruled states, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan, Advani said: “That is something for the investigative agencies to probe.”

In New Delhi, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi condemned the attacks.

Minister of State for Home Shakeel Ahmed said, “We are surprised and shocked. Yesterday, it was Bangalore. Today it is Ahmedabad. This happened even after the government of India issued high alerts to all sensitive states.”

This was the worst attack in Gujarat since the Sep 22, 2002 assault on the Akshardham temple in state capital Gandhinagar, which claimed 46 lives.

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