Ahmedabad toll 45, more bombs found, India on alert


Ahmedabad : Gujarat was calm but tense Sunday amid the discovery of three bombs and a cache of explosives and a national security alert, a day after 20 bombs ripped through Ahmedabad killing at least 45 people, injuring 100 and leaving India wondering where and when the terrorists would strike next.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Shivraj Patil were set to visit the city Monday to study the situation in the wake of one of the deadliest serial blasts in the country.

Only a day earlier, India’s IT hub of Bangalore too suffered a string of bomb blasts that left a woman dead.

As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi joined Patil to appeal for calm, investigators began probing all aspects of Black Saturday including the claim of responsibility by the Indian Mujahideen group.

Across the country, state governments put the police on high alert to try and foil more bombings. In Uttar Pradesh, leaves of all policemen were cancelled.

In Ahmedabad, the death toll rose to 45 Sunday with some of the victims succumbing to their injuries. Up to 20 people remained critical condition in hospitals.

The police defused a bomb Sunday morning at Hatkeshwar in Maninagar, Modi’s constituency that suffered multiple explosions Saturday. A bomb was defused Saturday night on Sarangpur road. Both bombs were left at vegetable markets – to inflict maximum casualties.

The bomb at Maninagar was placed on a cycle, the increasingly common modus operandi of terror groups in India.

Also Sunday, two cars were discovered in Surat, the second largest city in Gujarat, with white powder identified as ammonium nitrate and six bombs which were soon defused.

In comparison to Bangalore, the bombs in Ahmedabad were far more lethal. In 36 minutes, 20 bombs – according to Health Minister Jaynarayan Vyas – exploded in 16 locations, including two hospitals, killing 45 men, women and children and injuring around 100 people.

Vyas said investigation by the state and central security agencies had begun.

“Let me remind you that this is not an isolated incident but a well thought out conspiracy against this country. As bad luck would have it, Gujarat became the victim,” he said.

Most of the injured were in two hospitals of Ahmedabad – the Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital and the Civil Hospital, the city’s biggest that also witnessed twin bombings.

In New Delhi, Home Minister Patil said: “This is the time when we should not allow anybody to make use of these blasts to create more terror and more difficulties.”

Leader of Opposition L.K. Adavni, who represents the Gandhinagar constituency which includes parts of Ahmedabad, visited the Civil Hospital and met the injured.

Speaking to reporters later, the senior Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) leader called for stricter laws to fight terrorism.

“Some of the states have good laws to fight against organised crime, like in Maharashtra. Based on them, the Gujarat government had passed a law in the state legislative assembly to fight organised crime. But it is waiting the presidential clearance for the last four years,” said Advani.

“I demand that there should not be further delay of even a single day to give clearance to this law of Gujarat,” he said, referring to the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (Gujcoc) bill.

Ahmedabad police sources said 30 suspects had been detained in the city. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Abhay Chudasma said prima facie it seemed that ammonium nitrate had been used to make the bombs in Ahmedabad.

On Sunday, the smell of death hung over the Civil Hospital where a bomb went off near a parked ambulance van and a more devastating one near the trauma centre’s door when doctors were busy attending to victims.

It was the first time terrorists had targeted a hospital in India.

A doctor, S.P. Christian, said: “We were removing a body after the first blast when another occurred. Terror-stricken, we dropped the body and everyone ran blindly. What are these evil men trying to achieve?”

The Gujarat government has announced an ex gratia of Rs.500,000 for families of the dead and Rs.50,000 to the injured. The central government has chipped in with Rs.100,000 for the dead plus Rs.50,000 to the injured.

The shadowy terrorists struck with military precision. The Indian Mujahideen, in email messages sent out to media organisations, said it was avenging the killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

Gujarat was on high alert. Security forces stepped up patrolling in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot. Train services were cancelled at the Ahmedabad railway station. In Surat, all cinemas were ordered to shut.

The bombs Saturday targeted the eastern parts of Ahmedabad with large populations of migrant labourers. One exploded in a bus but its CNG tank did not explode.

With a countrywide alert sounded in the wake of 24 serial bomb blasts within 24 hours in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, security was Sunday beefed up – especially in BJP-ruled states.