New Delhi/ Mumbai/ Nashik: At least 37 people were killed and 56 were seriously injured when three bombs concealed on cycles went off near a mosque in Maharashtra’s Malegaon town when people were coming out after Friday afternoon prayers.
The blasts occurred near the Hamidia Mosque in the Bada Kabristan area of the communally sensitive town.
Thousands of people were out on the streets on Friday for Shab-e-Barat, a festival during which people offer prayers to dead relatives.
The first blast occurred at 1345 hours IST and two more explosions follow in two minutes. Police suspect a timer device could have been used to trigger off the explosions.
A curfew was imposed in the textile town after the blasts.
Maharashtra Police sounded a statewide alert and had mobile networks jammed in the town to prevent rumours.
"The situation in Malegaon is tense but under control," said Maharashtra Director General of Police P S Pasricha. ''The motive appears to be to create panic and make people fight with each other,” he said.
Stampede, crushed bodies
TV channels showed a stampede and people rushing out of a narrow gate of the mosque. Scores of people, children among them, were shown running over bodies and injured people.
The blast site was splattered with blood and limbs. Angry residents pelted stones on policemen and prevented them from reaching the blasts site while a mob of nearly 500 persons laid siege to a police station. A mob attacked Malegaon’s Superintendent of Police when a police team tried to enter the blast site. Police fired 10 rounds to disperse the mob.
"Whether any terror sleeper cells are involved in the blasts is being looked into. The region has become a hotbed for Islamist groups and is also very communally sensitive," a police official said.
Jain said the festival generally brings beggars and people from all over India to Malegaon. On Friday, an estimated 2,000 people had gathered for the occasion.
Jain said there was prior intelligence about the possibility of a terror attack in the town.
‘Bigger design behind blasts’
Union Home Secretary V K Duggal asked Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary to talk to local leaders in Malegaon to maintain peace.
Malegaon, a small town 110 km from Nashik, has a history of communal trouble, going back to 1962.
|The town saw riots in 1984 and in 1992 when large-scale violence took place in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition.|
|In October 2001, communal violence erupted in the town and continued for five days.|
|Fifteen persons were killed, scores were injured and property worth crores destroyed.|
Pasricha said it was too early to link the Malegaon blasts with the Mumbai serial bomb blasts of July 11 or the earlier explosions at Nanded and Parbhani last year.
''It is a terrorist act. It is done by people who don't want peace,'' said Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.
Malegaon is a town of around 800,000 people that is an important centre of handmade textile and is home to several madrassas. It has been the scene of communal violence in the past, with riots occurring most recently in 2001, when 15 people were killed.
(Inputs from IANS, PTI and AP)