Police detain suspects after India blasts

Indian police interrogated about a dozen people on Friday over suspected links to serial bombings this week in the state of Assam that claimed 76 lives and left hundreds injured.

A total of 12 explosions—all within the space of an hour—shook the insurgency-hit north-eastern state on Thursday, six of them ripping through crowded areas in the main city of Guwahati.

A little-known Islamic group claimed responsibility in a text message to a news channel on Friday the blasts, police said.

The group, identifying itself as the “Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedin”, warned such attacks would continue in Assam state, police said.

“The Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedin takes the responsibility for yesterday’s [Thursday] blasts,” said the text message to the Newslive television network in Assam.

“We warn all of Assam and India for situations like this in the future and we thank all our holy members and partners,” added the message.

A police spokesperson said the group is believed to have come into existence in 2000 in western Assam, where tribal Bodo militants are campaigning against Muslim settlers from nearby Bangladesh.

The group has not been active recently in Assam, where more than a dozen militant groups are campaigning for demands ranging from independence to greater autonomy.

The police’s suspicion had centred on the rebel United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1979, but the ULFA had denied its involvement.

A senior police official said on Friday that detectives were making headway in their investigation.

Preliminary investigations showed some of the bombs had been strapped to bicycles and packed with incendiary material to trigger fires.

Assam Home Commissioner Subhas Das said 15 people had died of their injuries overnight, taking the death toll to 76, of whom 43 were killed in Guwahati.

Three other districts in western Assam were also targeted by the bombers. The total number of injured stood at more than 300.

The powerful blasts, including one in front of the Guwahati District Magistrate’s Court, reduced nearby vehicles to heaps of twisted metal.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in New Delhi on an official visit, condemned what he called an “act of terrorism targeting civilians”, while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed to bring the bombers to justice.

“Such barbaric acts targeting innocent men, women and children only highlight the desperation and cowardice of those responsible,” Singh said.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Assam on Friday, but refused to be drawn on which groups may be the focus of investigations.

The attacks came six weeks after New Delhi was hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedin.

The emergence in recent years of an indigenous Islamist militancy has posed a fresh challenge to the Indian government, which has routinely blamed neighbouring rival Pakistan for organising attacks on its soil.

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s bombings, the authorities slapped a curfew on Guwahati as local residents—blaming lax security for the attacks—took their anger out on police vehicles and threw stones at fire engines that were trying to battle a series of fires.

By Friday morning, the curfew had been lifted and there were fresh clashes as about 200 protesters confronted police in the city centre.—AFP


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