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Friday approaches, security tightened at Mecca Masjid


Hyderabad : As the historic Mecca Masjid prepares for prayers this Friday – a week after a bomb exploded there – elaborate security arrangements have been made across the city.

With the city yet to recover from the shock of last Friday's terror attack, which claimed 16 lives including five in police firing, the government Thursday decided to put in place a new and permanent security system that will include metal detectors and CCTV cameras at the mosque.

As the probe into the blast continued, Hyderabad Police Commissioner Balwinder Singh told newsmen: "We are getting good cooperation from the people and hope that the Friday prayers will pass off peacefully."

Tight security arrangements are being made around hundreds of mosques in the city.

Police and paramilitary forces, deployed soon after the blast, have intensified patrolling and vehicles are being checked at sensitive places.

The government has announced that four other major and historic mosques, besides the Mecca Masjid, and the Haj House in the state capital would have a permanent security system.

With the earlier attempts to install CCTVs having met with resistance from Muslim religious and political leaders, the government this time plans to take them into confidence.

"We will explain to them that the situation has now changed and they should cooperate with the government for the safety of worshippers," said Minister for Minority Welfare Mohammed Ali Shabbir.

The minister was talking to newsmen after a high-level meeting to review security arrangements for the 17th century mosque, a major tourist centre located a few meters from Charminar, the symbol of Hyderabad.

At the meeting, attended by Police Commissioner Singh, Hyderabad District Collector Chandravadan, officials of archaeology and minority welfare and others, it was decided that six door-frame metal detectors, five hand-held metal detectors, three dragon lights and 21 CCTV cameras, with a facility of 30 days recording, would be installed at three entrances of the Mecca Masjid.

Since earlier attempts by police to screen worshippers and record their movements had created a controversy, the government this time decided to entrust the work to the minority welfare and archaeology departments, which are responsible for the upkeep of the mosque.

They will purchase the security equipment at a cost of Rs.3 million and will also recruit 24 people to handle it.

The minister said the CCTVs would help in monitoring the movements of visitors including worshippers and tourists to the mosque. A cloakroom would be opened near the entrance where all visitors would be required to deposit their belongings before entering the mosque.

The bomb, which exploded amidst worshippers, was kept in a bag under a stone platform near the 'wazu khana' or the water tank where ablutions are performed. Three other bombs which were later found and defused were also kept in bags.

Since the bomb was triggered with a mobile phone, the authorities are contemplating installing jammers in the mosque to jam mobile signals in the area. "We are working out the estimate for jammers," said Shabbir.

The archaeology department and the state Wakf Board will also install metal detectors and other security equipment at Royal Mosque in the Public Gardens abutting the state assembly building, the Mallepally mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the city, and the Khairatabad and Toli mosques, two heritage structures.

The police commissioner said that police were making progress in the Mecca Masjid explosion but refused to share details.

"We have sent our teams wherever we felt necessary," he said when asked to react on reports that a team of Hyderabad Police had left for Kolkata in connection with the probe.

The commissioner had Wednesday night announced a reward of Rs.500,000 anybody providing information leading to the detection and arrest of the accused. He promised that the identity of the informers would be kept secret.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) probing the blast has recorded the statements of eyewitnesses, injured people and mosque workers.

Muslims, who constitute 40 percent of the city's four million population, are in an overwhelming majority in the old city.