India was on high alert yesterday after a bomb exploded in Varanasi, one of its holiest cities and top tourist destinations, killing a young girl and wounding dozens of people on Tuesday night.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the blast was the work of “terrorists,” while a homegrown Islamist group, Indian Mujahideen, claimed responsibility in an e-mail sent to media outlets.
Local media reports said two people were questioned over the attack.
Indian Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of the blast that killed a two-year old girl and caused a stampede that injured 37 Hindu worshipers and foreign tourists.
Pillai said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved in the blast.
No one has been arrested or detained, R.P. Singh, a senior police officer, said in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, where Varanasi is located.
Most of the injured would be discharged from hospital yesterday, Uttar Pradesh officials said.
With hundreds of temples and shrines, Varanasi, on the sacred Ganges River, is the center of Hinduism. Pilgrims flock to the city for a dip in the river, which they believe will wash away their sins.
The Indian Mujahideen has in the past claimed several attacks, including the 2008 bombings in Jaipur that killed 63 people and attack on a tourist bus outside New Delhi’s main mosque in September this year that injured two Taiwanese.
Local media said the Indian Mujahideen, in the e-mail claiming the attack, said the blast was carried out against a court verdict over a disputed mosque site in Ayodhya that gave two-thirds of the land to Hindu groups.
The blast came a day after the 18th anniversary of the razing of the mosque by Hindu zealots.
Varanasi police superintendent Vijay Bhushan said that a forensic team had begun work on the site of the blast while police traced the email from the Indian Mujahedeen to an open Internet connection in a suburb of Mumbai.
Closed circuit television from around the bombsite was also being examined by investigators.
The blast was of low-intensity and originated from a crude device that did not appear to have contained metal shrapnel that would have made the death and injury toll much higher, police said.
The last major attack in India was in February, when a bomb exploded in a restaurant popular with backpackers in Pune, killing 17 people.