Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Indian police make scant progress in mosque bomb probe

TRAIL RUNS COLD The police said they were eyeing both Hindu and Muslim extremists, but have only released two sketches of suspects


Police said yesterday they were looking at Hindu or Muslim extremist groups in the investigation of blasts that killed 31 outside a mosque in western India, but the probe had made little headway.

Analysts said the devastating attack that injured nearly 300 would mark a significant watershed if it was proved Hindu hardliners were involved.

"We're keeping our minds open to any kind of involvement," said P.K. Jain, the district's police chief. "The investigation is quite widespread."

He denied that the intelligence community had ignored threats from Hindu hardliners after a series of attacks blamed on Islamic militants including July's Mumbai train blasts that killed nearly 190 people.

Little movement

Investigators blamed those blasts on Islamic rebels opposed to New Delhi's rule in Kashmir. Mumbai is the state capital of Maharashtra.

"Whatever splinter groups there are, they are very much under watch," Jain told reporters.

But he admitted that the investigation had not moved far since Friday's attacks.

"We released two sketches of two suspects. That's the only headway that we've made," he said. "There are other leads that we are investigating."

Bombs attached to bicycles went off outside a mosque at Malegaon in western India as thousands of worshippers attended Friday prayers to mark Shab-e-Bharat, an Islamic festival and a day devoted to prayer.

The attack is being viewed as a deliberate attempt to hit Muslim worshippers or to spark wider disturbances in an area of Maharashtra state with a history of communal violence.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the Malegaon blasts and the country's political leadership have not identified any group suspected of the attack.

Police have released artists' sketches of two men believed to have bought two bicycles used for the attacks and said test results on explosive debris were due yesterday.

Indian media yesterday said the focus of intelligence gathering had been on Islamic militants with little information on right-wing Hindus blamed for much smaller attacks outside mosques in 2002 and 2003.

"Police grope in the dark on Hindu groups," said a headline in yesterday's Times of India.

It quoted unnamed officials sources saying the "entire machinery" of intelligence gathering was focused on Islamic militants.

Hindu link

Police were probing links between previous bomb attacks on mosques by Hindus reportedly linked to right-wing group Bajrang Dal, according to the newspaper.

The Bajrang Dal is among a group of nationalist organizations that have vowed to protect India's Hindu identity.

Four alleged members died while making bombs in western India earlier this year, the newspaper said.

But its parent organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, denied any Hindu organisation was involved.

"One cannot conclude that Hindu organizations are behind the blasts in Malegaon just because they occurred at a Muslim shrine," VHP leader Praveen Togadia told reporters according to the Press Trust of India.

S. Chandrasekharan, analyst at India's South Asia Analysis Group, said it would be a "major watershed" if Hindus were behind the attacks but warned that little had been unearthed so far by the inquiry.

"It's the first time the majority community would have retaliated in the same form. It would be a serious matter for the country if it's proved," the analyst said.

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