Fri, Mar 10, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Indian holy city stands resolute after blasts

AGENCIES , VARANASI AND SRINAGAR, INDIA

A security guard frisks a Sadhu, or Hindu holy man, at the entrance of a temple in Varanasi, India, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

The northern city of Varanasi yesterday showcased its standing as one of the country's most vibrant pilgrimage centers, two days after bomb blasts killed 15 people and triggered protests.

Markets across the Hindu holy city opened, streets bustled with traffic and tourists, Indian and foreign, returned to the ancient bathing ghats and temples by the holy Ganges river a day after Hindu groups shut the city in protests.

Police said they would continue to mount vigils to prevent a communal backlash although, they added, that appeared unlikely.

"Violence occurs when there is anger," said Mahendra Tanna, a Varanasi businessman. "The blasts at the temple did not anger us but made us sad. Which is why there have been no riots."

"How can we associate all this with Muslims? All Muslims are not bad and all Hindus are not good," said Tanna, a Hindu.

The first bomb went off in Sankat Mochan temple where hundreds of devotees of the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman had gathered for prayers and three weddings. Another bomb then exploded at the city's main railway station. Police said both bombs were home-made devices placed in pressure cookers and connected to timers.

They said they were working on sketches of suspects based on a video shot at one of the weddings at the temple.

Analysts and intelligence officers said that although the Hindu community was targeted by suspected Islamist militants, they did not expect trouble because most Indians were weary of violence and increasingly resilient.

Besides, political groups had largely refrained from stoking tensions and Varanasi's Muslims had condemned the blasts and joined Hindus in the general strike on Wednesday, avoiding a confrontation, they said.

"We are grateful to the people that they have not allowed this situation to take a communal turn," said Yashpal Singh, police chief of Uttar Pradesh state where Varanasi is located.

"It is thanks also to the political parties as none of them tried to give this political color," he said.

Meanwhile, a hitherto unknown Islamic militant group claimed responsibility yesterday for the bombings, a Kashmiri news agency said.

"Lashkar-e-Kahar" (Army of the Imperious) said in a telephone call to Current News Service (CNS) that it carried out the bombings.

"We have carried out the attacks," said a spokesman for the group who identified himself as Abdul Jabbar, alias "Abu Kahar."

He threatened more attacks if "India does not stop atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims. Until that happens we will not allow people of India to live in peace."

Police said they had never heard of the group before but were taking the call seriously.

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