Guwahati : At least 61 people were killed and about 300 injured, several of them critically, after 12 powerful bombs went off within a span of an hour in parts of Assam Thursday. Authorities said the blasts were a coordinated strike carried out by jihadi forces in collaboration with local militant groups.
“The death toll now is 61 and 300 are injured. In Guwahati alone 31 people were killed and 150 injured in four blasts,” Assam Home Commissioner Subhas Das said.
“Nineteen people were killed in three explosions in Kokrajhar district, 11 in Barpeta district,” the official said.
A police spokesman said there were 12 blasts in an hour beginning at 11.20 a.m. – six in Guwahati, three in Kokrajhar district, two in Barpeta district and one in Bongaigaon district, all in western Assam.
“This is an act of cowardice and we shall deal with the situation firmly,” Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.
“A red alert has been sounded across the state. It is a designed and planned attack carried out to spread terror,” the chief minister said.
“I do admit we did not anticipate this kind of a terror strike. I don’t want to name any group but, yes, this is an act of terrorists and we shall deal with the situation firmly,” he later told a press conference.
Assam Police intelligence chief Khagen Sharma said: “Prima facie, it appears to be a combined attack carried out at the behest of some jihadi forces probably with the help of local outfits.”
On the other hand, Assam Health Minister and state government spokesman Himanta Biswa Sarma said: “The needle of suspicion is on the ULFA (United Liberation front of Asom) as they had in the past triggered serial explosions. Investigations are on to find out if the blasts were carried out in collaboration with other forces.”
The outlawed ULFA denied it triggered the blasts. “We have not carried out the blasts,” an ULFA statement said.
The health minister said: “Preliminary investigations show that the bombs were strapped on bicycles and were the explosives packed with highly inflammable substances that led to big fire soon after the blasts.”
Soon after the blasts, mobs went on a rampage, alleging the police and fire officials were slow-footed in reaching the blast sites to rescue the injured. Authorities clamped curfew in Guwahati as mobs indulged in arson and torched two fire brigade tankers.
“We have clamped indefinite curfew in Guwahati to restore order after mobs went out of control and attacked fire and official vehicles,” city magistrate C.K. Bhuyan said.
The curfew was withdrawn late in the afternoon as the situation came under control.
The six blasts in Guwahati took place at the busy Ganeshguri area, Panbazar, and Fancy Bazar.
“The area was teeming with people, officer-goers, shoppers and vendors when a very big explosion took place,” Arindam Das, an eye-witness, said, describing the blast scene at the Ganeshguri.
“I saw at least six bodies, while more than 30 people were lying on the ground and bleeding,” he said.
Another blast took place in front of the District Magistrate’s court in Guwahati where five people were killed. “Some bodies were charred beyond recognition,” Deputy Inspector General of Assam Police G.P. Singh said.
No militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the explosions.
“We don’t know about the nature of explosives or who could be behind the attacks as we are now busy carrying out rescue operations,” police official Singh said.
There were heartrending scenes at the blast sites and hospitals with people checking if any of their friends or relatives were among the casualties.
“I have no idea where my son is. He was probably in Ganeshguri where the blast took place,” Minoti Das, an elderly woman, said as she ran around hospitals looking for her missing son.
Doctors at the Guwahati Medical College Hospital said the condition of at least 30 of the nearly 100 people admitted there was critical.
A team of union home ministry officials reached here to help in investigations with police and civil officials.
“Forensic teams are working to find out the nature of explosives. This is too early to say anything on the investigations,” Assam police chief R.N. Mathur said.