July 28, 2008

Article at Reuters

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India PM visits bomb victims

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday visited victims of bombings that killed 45 people in a communally sensitive city, as calls grew for his government to beef up its intelligence apparatus.

The 16 bombings in western Ahmedabad on Saturday came a day after blasts in the IT hub of Bangalore in which one woman died, sparking criticism that authorities were lax in probing militant groups that were using increasingly brazen tactics.

A group called the “Indian Mujahideen” said it carried out the Ahmedabad attack, writing in an e-mail sent five minutes before the first blast that it was in revenge for a 2002 massacre in Gujarat of around 2,500 people, mainly Muslims, by Hindu mobs.

“Do whatever you can, within 5 minutes from now, feel the terror of Death!”, the e-mail, seen by Reuters, said.

Guarded by their personal commandos, the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi, the powerful head of the ruling Congress party, drove to a hospital hit by a car bomb that killed 27 people, just one of the coordinated explosions that hit the city.

Two patients wept as the prime minister walked into a ward where he chatted to a child victim of the blasts.

“These terrorist attacks are aimed at destroying our social fabric, undermining communal harmony and demoralizing our people,” Singh said. “These efforts will not succeed.”

The email from the Indian Mujahideen warned the governments of several states to stop harassing, imprisoning and torturing Muslims and told media outlets to stop their “propaganda war” against Muslims.

It also warned Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries and one of the world’s richest men, to think twice before building a luxury 27-storey home on land in Mumbai previously owned by a Muslim charity.

Two separate series of bombs ripped through Ahmedabad within 90 minutes. The first series went off near busy markets. A second wave of bombs went off around a hospital, where at least six people died. All were detonated with timers.

Many of the bombs were packed into metal tiffin boxes, used to carry food, and stuffed with ball-bearings. Some were left on bicycles and one was reportedly a car bomb. Police believe dozens of militants could have been involved in the coordinated attack.

The Indian Mujahideen said it carried out bombings that killed 63 people in the western city of Jaipur in May.

As was the case with Jaipur, India has often accused militant groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh of helping local militants to carry out a wave of bombings in recent years, with targets ranging from mosques to Hindu temples.

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But few people are ever brought to trial.

“Typically, the police round up a few Muslim boys as being terrorists and the courts let them off, so poor is the investigation or the basis of the initial arrests,” The Asian Age said in its editorial on Monday.

India’s cities were on alert on Monday, with extra police stationed at many malls, train stations and temples.

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Gujarat police said they were interrogating a member of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India in connection with the Ahmedabad attacks. He is wanted on charges relating to the 2002 violence in Gujarat and was caught in a police sweep on Sunday.

Police also traced the Indian Mujahideen e-mail to a computer belonging to an American, living in a Mumbai suburb, who has been questioned. Local media said his computer may have been hacked.

Ahmedabad is the main city in the communally sensitive and relatively wealthy western state of Gujarat. The state’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi is one of India’s most controversial politicians, accused of turning a blind eye to the 2002 riots.

Underscoring worries that another attack could be in the pipeline, two more unexploded bombs were found in cars in the city of Surat on Sunday, one of the world’s biggest diamond-polishing centers, also located in Gujarat.

There have been calls to reinstate an anti-terrorism law that the government scrapped after it came to power in 2004. The law was criticized for giving police too many powers to detain people without charge and allowing the abuse of government opponents.

Police officers in many states said they rarely received warnings from the country’s intelligence services.

There are worries that more attacks could start to dent business confidence. The attacks had little impact on the stock market on Monday, although the stock exchange in Mumbai was under heavy guard after an e-mail threat.


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