Indian bombings fit pattern of efforts to foment interreligious strife

Seven synchronized bombs exploded in the city of Jaipur Tuesday evening.

Seven synchronized bombs exploded in the picturesque city of Jaipur Tuesday evening, killing more than 80 people and wounding more than 200. The bombs, the deadliest such attacks in India in nearly two years, appear to fit into an emerging pattern in India, in which bomb explosions occur every few months and are attributed to Islamic terrorists.

The government issued a national security alert and imposed a curfew in Jaipur, capital of the western desert state of Rajasthan.

Hours after the explosions, observers and officials speculated that those responsible wanted to undermine a peace process between India and Pakistan and to foment communal tensions.

There were, however, no claims of responsibility. India, though largely peaceful, is home to a number of militant groups, from Maoist rebels to secessionists in its northeast.

But most analysts say Islamic terrorists were behind the bombs. Some point out that India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is due to visit Islamabad shortly to review the peace process between Pakistan and India, his first visit since a civilian government took over in Pakistan earlier this year.

They also note that the blasts occurred just days after gun battles erupted between the Indian Army and Islamic militants in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Several analysts said intelligence surrounding earlier blasts made the Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami, a Bangladeshi group known as the Huji, a strong suspect.

Last August, three bomb blasts, which killed 38 people in Hyderabad, were widely blamed on the Huji.

"They want Islamic extremism to take root in India," says Ashok Behuria, a fellow at Delhi's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, referring to Islamic terrorist groups from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. "These people are slowly but surely beginning to penetrate India."

Jaipur, called the "pink city" after its salmon-colored buildings, is predominantly Hindu, but has a strong Muslim minority. Recent years have seen a rise in tensions between the communities in some parts of India, most notably in Gujarat, where more than 2,000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu mobs in 2002.

Jaipur has no history of violence between Muslims and Hindus. But the state is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ajay Sahni, a terrorism expert at the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi says the attacks were designed to provoke inter-religious tensions.

Indeed, two of Tuesday's bombs were planted near Hindu temples, where large crowds gather on Tuesdays.

In hospitals, however, and in the city's morgue, both Hindus and Muslims were among the casualties.

Jaipur was also likely an attractive target because it has less security than big metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and because it is a popular tourist destination. In the sweltering month of May, however, tourist numbers are low and none are thought to have been killed in Tuesday's blasts.

Mr. Sahni says that because Indian police in most states do not have enough resources, it is impossible for them to efficiently monitor terrorist groups.

"As long as these groups have a safe haven outside and you don't have a ban on freedom of movement, these things will go on happening," he says. He adds that, since an attack on India's parliament in 2001, Islamic terrorists had failed to hit a "strategic target."

It is not yet known if those responsible came from India, though there were reports Wednesday that the police suspected involvement of Indian Muslims.

Sahni cautions that while Muslims and Hindus have a long history of peaceful coexistence in India, Islamic militants' efforts to exploit Muslim grievances – from communal violence to the casual discrimination against Muslims that is common in India – pose an ever-greater risk to the country's security.

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