India says a series of coordinated bombings Tuesday in the western city of Jaipur were among the country's deadliest terrorist attacks in recent years. National authorities are on high alert for further violence as suspicion shifted to militant Islamic groups in South Asia blamed for previous attacks in India.
At least seven bombs detonated within minutes of each other, blasting crowded early-evening markets, bazaars, and a Hindu temple in Jaipur's pink-hued old city, says the Associated Press. An eighth bomb was found and defused by police. The death toll rose overnight to 80 after more casualties died in the hospital, police said, and 200 were reportedly injured.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, as is the case with most bombings in India. But within hours of the blasts, authorities were suggesting that blame would eventually fall on Pakistan and the Islamic militant groups that India accuses its neighbor of backing.
"One can't rule out the involvement of a foreign power," said India's junior home minister, Sriprakash Jaiswal, using language commonly understood to refer to Pakistan.
Britain's Daily Telegraph reports that police detained four suspects and imposed a daytime curfew in parts of the city. None of the suspects have been charged. Authorities declared a day of mourning in the state of Rajasthan, of which Jaipur is the capital.
CNN says Jaipur, 160 miles from New Delhi, the capital, is popular with foreign tourists who crowd its historic center, though less so during the current hot season. After the blasts, witnesses said bicycles and rickshaws were strewn around the streets inside the city walls. Police found pieces of motorbikes at several bomb sites that indicate their being used to conceal explosives.
Cars and bicycles may also have been used in the bombings, reports Agence France-Presse. One unexploded bomb was found attached to a bicycle. Police defused it and handed it over to explosives experts sent from New Delhi to help detectives.
The New York Times says that the main government hospital where casualties were taken for treatment hadn't admitted any foreigners. A state official said the bombers had likely sought to incite religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
There were a total of seven blasts in quick succession near a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman about 7:30 p.m. and in the warrens of shops and monuments nearby, including the popular 18th-century tourist site called Hawa Mahal, and the Johri Bazaar, lined with jewelers. Panic set in immediately, officials said.
Jitender Narwani, 31, was offering prayers at the temple when one of the bombs went off. Shrapnel punctured his legs.
Shahid, 16, a candle maker, had gone for a sip of water from a public tap in an area called Tripola market when there was another blast.
Subhana Khan, 4, was shopping with her mother and two aunts in Johri Bazaar; they were about to board a rickshaw at the time of another explosion. All but the little girl were killed.
The Hindustan Times says that Jaipur's old city was likely targeted because of its mixed Hindu-Muslim population. Tuesday is a holiday in Jaipur for Hanuman, the Hindu money god, and temples were packed with worshipers.
This was Rajasthan's second brush with terrorism in recent years — the last being a bomb blast at the Ajmer Sharif dargah of Moinuddin Chisti on October 11, 2007 that killed three devotees.
Recent terrorist attacks in India have also targeted religious sites, with the apparent aim of fomenting sectarian violence, according to India's Economic Times, which has a chronology of major attacks since 2001. In May 2007, a blast at a mosque in Hyderabad killed at least 10 people, and a 2006 attack targeted a Hindu temple in the city of Varanasi.
Writing on the Counterterrorism Blog, Animseh Roul says police have recovered evidence from the bombing sites, including mobile phones, wires, and a timer found with mangled bikes, that point to "cocktail bombs," rather than military explosives. Likely suspects are an alliance of radical Islamist groups in South Asia, including Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI), Lashkar-i Tayyaba, and the Student Islamic Movements of India (SIMI). HuJI is thought to have used mobile phones, chemicals, and commercial explosives to carry out previous attacks, such as last May's mosque bombing in Hyderabad.
Bloomberg reports that Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the Jaipur attacks and said Pakistan was committed to fighting terrorism. In December, India's most senior border security official said terrorists from Pakistan and Bangladesh were collaborating to stage attacks on India. Last year, India gave Bangladesh a list of 141 militants and criminals that it wants to see detained during a security forum.
In a roundup of press reactions, the BBC reports that Indian newspapers have speculated on the pattern and timing of the attack and its probable perpetrators. The Indian Express points out that the blast came on the 10th anniversary of India's nuclear-missile test in Rajasthan. The paper also says that Indian security forces hadn't intercepted any communications from Kashmir-based militants and had been caught by surprise. Violence flared Sunday in Kashmir near the line of control between Indian and Pakistan-run areas.
The Jaipur blasts come after the terrorist attack near the international border at Samba two days ago and a week before External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon are to travel to Islamabad for their first bilateral interaction with the new government in Pakistan which will signal the start of the next round of the composite dialogue. The Foreign Secretary-level talks were called off due to the Mumbai blasts. This resulted in diplomatic bitterness that was finally resolved through the Havana joint statement that set up the joint anti-terror mechanism.