Indian leaders urge calm, army called out after attacks


Ahmedabad, India : Indian leaders appealed for calm Sunday as the army was called out after a wave of bombings killed 45 people in Ahmedabad, a city rocked by deadly Hindu-Muslim riots six years ago.

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The string of 16 bombings, which left more than 160 people injured, ripped through crowded places in the tinderbox western city — markets, buses and then hospitals struggling to treat the scores of victims.

They came just one day after another wave of nine bombings in the southern high-tech capital of Bangalore left one dead and several injured — prompting the government to put the entire country on high alert.

Indian television channels said a little-known Islamist group calling itself the “Indian Mujahedeen” had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Bomb squads defused at least three unexploded devices in Ahmedabad on Sunday, Indian news channels reported, and police said they had also found a car laden with explosives in the diamond-polishing city of Surat.

Ahmedabad was calm Sunday, with police, soldiers and paramilitary forces fanning out across the city, which is the commercial capital of Gujarat state.

Joint police commissioner Ashish Bhatia told AFP a number of people had been detained after raids, but said no formal arrests had yet been made.

On the outskirts of India’s financial hub Mumbai, police raided a house from which the email claiming responsibility for the attacks may have been sent, reports said.

President Pratibha Patil expressed her “grief and sorrow” and also “appealed to the people of Ahmedabad to maintain peace and harmony.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also appealed for calm.

Many of the victims had been peppered with red-hot nuts, bolts and ball bearings packed into bombs that were clearly designed to cause maximum casualties, doctors said.

At Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital, one of two medical facilities that were hit, victims could be seen writhing in corridors after the attack, their bodies punctured by flying pellets, and crying for treatment from overstretched and panicked staff.

The hospital was hit by a car bomb, and was still littered with broken glass and charred debris and smeared with blood hours after the blast, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

An army commander, who asked not to be named, said that “anger could spread once the bodies are handed back to relatives for cremations” and that the army had been deployed “as a major psychological deterrent to riots.”

“The army has been called in as a precautionary measure and its personnel are conducting flag marches,” additional police commissioner Mohan Jha told reporters.

All the bombs were detonated with timer devices.

The official Press Trust of India news agency put the latest toll at 45 dead and 162 injured. The group which sent the email claim minutes before the actual explosions in Ahmedabad also warned of repeat attacks elsewhere in India, prompting major security alerts in major cities including the capital New Delhi.

“We have deployed an additional 3,000 personnel in the city to ensure foolproof security,” New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said. Gujarat’s right-wing Hindu leader Narendra Modi warned he would not spare the culprits.

“The land of Mahatma Gandhi has been bloodied by terrorists whom we shall not spare,” said Modi, the firebrand chief minister of the state where India’s independence hero was born. “Terrorists are waging a war against India. We should be prepared for a long battle against terrorism.”

Modi is a highly controversial figure in India — accused of turning a blind eye to the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots here which left an estimated 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

Major Indian cities have been hit by a string of apparently well-planned bomb attacks in recent years, with officials in the capital regularly pointing the finger at arch-rival Pakistan or militants backed by Islamabad.

Pakistan denies backing Muslim militants, including those operating in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.

Earlier in the week India said the two countries’ peace process was “under stress,” repeating allegations that “elements” in Islamabad were behind an upsurge in militant activities, including this month’s suicide attack against its Kabul embassy.