Explosions kill at least 31 in India

HOLY DAY ATTACK: The first blast was apparently aimed at Muslims leaving a mosque, while the second occurred near a graveyard on the Night of the Blessing

AFP , MUMBAI

Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 5

At least 31 people were killed and around 100 were injured yesterday after at least two blasts near a mosque in the west Indian town of Malegaon, officials said.

The first explosion happened as hundreds of Muslims left the Nurani mosque in the rural town after prayers on the Islamic festival day of Shab-e-Barat, police and reports said.

"My people are telling me that there are around 20-plus bodies lying inside the [hospital] campus," following the explosions, said L.N. Chauhan, chief medical officer of the privately-run Wadia hospital.

"Around 150 patients had been brought to our hospital and we treated some of them and sent the rest to other hospitals," he said by telephone from Malegaon.

Police said one blast was heard near a graveyard on a day when Muslims traditionally remember their ancestors and offer prayers at their graves. It is a key date ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Muslims believe that all sins will be forgiven by praying to Allah throughout Shab-e-Barat, the Night of Blessing.

A curfew was declared as state politicians from western Maharashtra and police teams headed to the area, some 180km north of the economic center of Mumbai.

Police, who said they did not know the cause of the blasts, were on high alert across the state of western Maharashtra, and mobile telephone networks in the town were also down.

"I am confirming some blasts," police chief P.K. Jain told NDTV news channel. "I do not know what has caused the blasts."

Details of casualties taken to the other two hospitals in the town were not immediately available last night.

The area has a history of communal tension between Hindus and Muslims, and extra officers were drafted in to try to ensure calm in the town, which has a majority Muslim population.

D.K. Sankaran, the state's chief secretary, said police heading to the area had been stoned by an angry mob.

"Things are fairly tense but under control. ... A curfew has been declared," he told CNN-IBN channel.

Anti-terrorist police seized explosives and guns in the town in May in a swoop on a suspected Islamic militant cell.

Malegaon used to be a wealthy textile town, but a slump in the industry has caused high unemployment levels.

The blast came two months after an attack on seven trains in Mumbai that killed 186 people and was blamed on Islamic militants.

Mumbai joint commissioner of police Arup Patnaik said that Mumbai had been put on a high state of alert.

"We have to be very vigilant," he told NDTV.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week warned chief ministers of spiralling left-wing and ethnic unrest and of terror groups operating in India.

He said intelligence agencies had warned of further violent attacks including on religious targets and vital installations.

The premier also asked law enforcement officials to counter a sense of alienation among India's 140 million Muslims.