Serial blasts rock Jaipur, 60 killed; toll may rise

May 14th, 2008 - 1:41 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil
By Anil Sharma and Murali Krishnan
Jaipur/New Delhi, May 14 (IANS) Seven synchronised blasts ripped through the Indian tourist city of Jaipur Tuesday evening, killing at least 60 people and injuring nearly 100 others - and officials feared the death toll could rise. The carefully choreographed blasts at six spots went off within a space of 20 minutes and occurred in the Tripolia Bazar, where a Hanuman temple that draws a large number of devotees is located, as well as at Manas Chowk, Badi Choupal, Chhoti Choupal, Sanganeri Gate and Johari Bazar areas that are home to mixed populations of Hindus and Muslims.

“Such acts of terror will not be tolerated and the perpetrators will be brought to book,” Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia said soon after the blasts, even as officials swung into operation to clamp stricter security measures in place.

The bombings, as also a gun battle in Jammu on Sunday between the security forces and militants that killed six, occurred days before India and Pakistan are to resume their composite dialogue process that has been stalled by the fluid political situation in the neighbouring country.

Tuesday’s explosions were among the worst terror strikes in India after the Mumbai suburban train blasts in July 2006 that killed over 180 people. Jaipur is at the centre of India’s famous Golden Triangle tourist circuit that draws thousands of foreign visitors every year. It was not immediately known whether any foreign or Indian tourist was a casualty in the explosions.

“At least 60 people have been killed and about double the number injured. It’s incredible,” Rohit Singh, Rajasthan’s chief information commissioner, told IANS. Officials feared the number of casualties would mount.

“You can say it is a terrorist attack. Maximum damage has been caused to human lives,” said Rajasthan police chief A.S. Gill.

The medium intensity explosions, the first major terror attack since the serial blasts in Uttar Pradesh in November last year, threw life out of gear in Jaipur and prompted a nation-wide alert to be sounded.

Anti-riot police were deployed in some of the crowded areas of the famous pink city to thwart any possible retaliation or riots, and the entire walled city area where the blasts occurred was cordoned off.

The mangled remains of bicycles and cars splattered with bloodstains pockmarked several of the blast sites. Those hit by the shrapnel thrown up by the blasts writhed in pain even as bystanders moved in to shift them to hospitals.

A priest at the Hanuman temple said: “At around 7.30 p.m. there was a big noise and I suddenly saw people lying in a pool of blood. I was not aware it was a bomb blast. My father was also hit by a splinter and died of injuries.”

There were a few hundred people at the Hanuman temple when the blast took place since it was a Tuesday, considered auspicious among Hindus.

“There was total chaos after the explosions and many have been killed and injured,” said an eyewitness, Lakshmi Narayan.

“I was standing at Manas Chowk when a huge and thundering explosion occurred,” he added, while being treated at a hospital.

Following the blasts, most of the injured were taken to the Sawai Mansingh Hospital. People were seen standing outside the hospital appealing to passers-by to donate blood for the injured.

President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani condemned the blasts and appealed for calm. Home Minister Shivraj Patil cut short his two-day trip to the northeast and rushed to Jaipur in an Indian Air Force aircraft.

The home ministry also issued an advisory to all states to remain extra vigilant following the Jaipur blasts.

“It is very unfortunate this has happened. I appeal to the people to stay calm,” said former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who is a former Rajasthan chief minister.

“I condemn this act of terrorism that was meant to create tension between the people,” said Sachin Pilot, who represents Rajasthan’s Dausa constituency in the Lok Sabha.

“We must not let terrorists succeed in what they intended to do,” Pilot added.

This is the first terror attack in Rajasthan after two pilgrims were killed and 17 wounded in a bomb blast at the Ajmer Sharif shrine seven months ago.

“There is panic in the city as this is happening in the midst of the IPL (Indian Premier League) cricket frenzy. Most of the police and security forces are busy in the preparations of the IPL matches,” said Manas Kumar, an eyewitness.

According to the police, the first blast took place at the Manas Chowk Police Station area. The second blast was near the most famous sweet shop in the city, Lakshmi Mishtaan Bhandar that is in Johari Bazaar.

The third blast took place in Tripolia Bazar where a Hanuman temple drew a large number of devotees Tuesday, while the fourth and fifth blasts were reported at Badi Choupal and Chhoti Choupal.

“It is clearly a well planned operation and strangely the state police had no intelligence information. All the blasts happened when people were milling around these places,” said a top intelligence officer.

“We have sent a bomb disposal team to Jaipur. The team would be investigating the nature of blasts and chemical used in these deadly blasts,” said J.K. Dutta, the Director General of the National Security Guard.

Home ministry officials said the bombs were planted in bicycles and forensic teams were being dispatched to determine the nature of explosives. At least one explosive device was detected and defused, officials said.

“Look, it is difficult to say what (explosive) was used but it could be RDX or even ammonium nitrate,” said a ministry official.

Rajasthan’s Chief Secretary B.C. Sawant said that police were deployed in all communally sensitive locations.

In the national capital, Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said: “An alert has been sounded in the wake of the Jaipur blasts.”

Additional police personnel have been deployed along with bomb disposal squads at Delhi Metro stations, at railway stations and bus terminals.

“Extra security cover has been extended to all the religious places, including the Jama Masjid, Akashardham and Iskcon temples,” Bhagat added.

Delhi Police sleuths have put road barricades at various intersections and dog squads have been deployed at railway stations. Metal detectors are in place at entry points in busy markets and security agencies are keeping a close watch over all VIP areas.

At least 434 people have died in terror attacks across India in the past two years. Six serial blasts in the cities of Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi in November last year ripped through civil court premises, killing 13 people.

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