Bombings in western Indian city kill 29

July 26, 2008 7:11:52 PM PDT
Bombs exploded Saturday near a busy market and a hospital in a western Indian city, killing 29 people and injuring 88 a day after deadly blasts struck the southern technology hub of Bangalore. There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it was not clear whether the bombings were connected to those a day earlier. But suspicion for both quickly fell on Muslim militants who were blamed for previous attacks, including the 2006 bombings that ripped through Mumbai's commuter rail network and killed nearly 200.

At least 16 bombs went off Saturday evening in several crowded neighborhoods of Ahmadabad - a crowded and historic city that in 2002 was the scene of some of the worst rioting between India's Hindu majority and its Muslim minority.

The bombs went off in two separate spates. The first, near a busy market, left some of the dead sprawled beside stands piled high with fruit, next to twisted bicycles and in public squares. The second went off near a hospital.

The side of a bus was blown off and its windows shattered while another vehicle was engulfed in flames. Most of the blasts took place in the narrow lanes of the older part of Ahmadabad, which is tightly packed with homes and small businesses. Bomb-sniffing dogs scoured the areas that were hit.

Distraught relatives of the wounded crowded the city's hospitals. One of the wounded was a 6-year-old whose father was killed in the blasts. He lay in a hospital bed with his arms covered in bandages and wounds on his face.

Narenda Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state where Ahmadabad is located, called the blasts "a crime against humanity." He said the bombings appeared to have be masterminded by a group or groups who "are using a similar modus operandi all over the country."

Prithviraj Chavan, a junior minister in the prime minister's office, called the explosions "deplorable" and said they were set off by people "bent upon creating a communal divide in the country" - language officials usually use to blame Islamic militants.

The militants' attacks are believed to be an attempt to provoke violence between India's Hindu majority and the Muslim minority.

"Anti-national elements have been trying to create panic among the people of our country. Today's blasts in Ahmadabad seem to be part of the same strategy," federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters in New Delhi.

Those fears were amplified by the history of Ahmadabad's 2002 riots between Muslims and Hindus. That violence killed about 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. It was triggered by a fire that killed 60 passengers on a train packed with Hindu pilgrims. Hindu extremists blamed the deaths on Muslims and rampaged through Muslim neighborhoods, although the cause of the blaze remains unclear.

Ahmadabad is also known for the elegant architecture of its mosques and mausoleums, a rich blend of Muslim and Hindu styles. It was founded in the 15th century and served as a sultanate, fortified in 1487 with a wall six miles in circumference and 12 gates, 189 bastions and 6000 battlements.

The government put out an alert warning other cities of the possibility of attacks similar to those that struck Ahmadabad and Bangalore.

On Friday, seven synchronized small bombs killed two people and injured at least five in Bangalore. On Saturday, police found and defused an eighth bomb near a popular shopping mall in Bangalore, said Srikumar, the director general of police in Karnataka state, where the city is located. Like many Indians, he uses only a single name.


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