Dozens killed in India explosions

At least 31 people, mostly worshippers at weekly Islamic prayers, were killed and up to 75 injured in a series of explosions in a Muslim-majority town in western India on Friday, police said.

The blasts came days after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that intelligence agencies had warned of more terrorist attacks across the country, possibly on economic and religious targets as well as on nuclear installations.

The blasts hit Malegaon town in the western state of Maharashtra as thousands of Muslims gathered at a burial ground for special Friday prayers, police said.

There were two explosions at the burial ground and a third in a town square at about 1.50pm local time, according to reports from the town, 260km north east of Mumbai, India’s financial hub.

Television showed pandemonium on the packed streets of Malegaon minutes after the blast. Hundreds of people in white skull caps ran in panic, leaping over bodies prostrate on the ground.

Other carried or dragged away the wounded. Many of the wounded were taken away on handcarts. A fire engine was shown inching its way toward the blast site as hundreds of people ran in the opposite direction.

Maharashtra’s police chief PS Pasricha said 31 people were killed and 75 injured. The mayor of the town, however, put the death toll at 35.

Police said thousands of worshippers had gathered at the burial ground for Friday prayers.

Friday marked ”Shab-e-Barat” or the ”night of forgiveness or atonement”, when Muslims pray for the dead. They also believe that prayers on the day, which comes just before the holy month of Ramadan, absolve them of sins.

Security alert

”I’ve seen seven dead bodies being carried inside the hospital,” Malegaon resident Suresh Nikam told NDTV from outside a local hospital.

”People have shut their shops and are going back home. People were disturbed when the incident took place but now they are coming out to help each other. People have also reached the hospital to donate blood,” he said.

Police said Malegaon, which has a history of religious violence, was tense as groups of people had gathered around the town and were shouting slogans against authorities.

A curfew had been imposed to prevent trouble in the town, a local textile manufacturing centre. Nearly three-fourths of Malegaon’s 700 000 people belong to India’s minority Muslim community.

A Home Ministry official in New Delhi said federal forces, including the Rapid Action Force used for riot control, were being rushed to Malegaon.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the blasts were an attempt to disturb peace and communal harmony and appealed to people to stay calm.

India has been on a heightened security alert after a series of bombs on commuter trains in Mumbai killed 186 people in July. The attack was blamed on Islamist militant groups with links across the border in Pakistan.

Additional police were also being deployed across Mumbai and the capital New Delhi to prevent any trouble, police said.

Malegaon has suffered religious violence in the past. In May, police recovered a cache of explosives and automatic rifles from the town based on information they said was provided by arrested Islamist militants. — Reuters

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