Multiple bombings kill scores, rattling northeastern India

While no one has claimed responsibility, local authorities are pointing fingers at a separatist group.

India's northeastern state of Assam was rocked by a coordinated wave of bombings Thursday morning, although estimates of the number of bombs, wounded, and dead vary widely. It is the latest attack in a four-month-long rash of violence that has killed more than 150 people.

Just hours after the attack, news sources disagreed on the number of explosions as well as the death toll.

The New York Times reports there were nine blasts killing 55 and injuring 100, while The Times of India reports 13 explosions and some 300 injured. Reuters says there were 11 explosions injuring 235, and the BBC reports 18 blasts killing 50 and injuring more than 150.

The BBC reports that most of the bombs went off in the state's main city, Guwahati, targeting a neighborhood home to many senior police officials. Bombs also exploded at busy markets across Assam.

Reuters describes the scenes of the blasts as chaotic and devastating.

Firefighters doused smouldering remains of cars and motorcycles at one of the blast sites in Guwahati. One of the blasts targeted a high security zone with a court as well as offices and homes of senior police officials.
Many of the blasts were in crowded markets in the state....
Television channels showed some people lying on the streets...
Some of the walking wounded were helped into ambulances by local people and police.

Protesters took to the streets within minutes, reports The Hindu.

Angry mobs in Guwahati went on a rampage, attacking and torching police vehicles, fire tenders and buses and pelted stones on police barricades at the blast sites.
A group of people shouting slogans against the government carried a body in a handcart to the gate of the Secretariat complex here.
A rattled Chief Minister vowed to deal firmly with the situation. It is the handiwork of anti-national extremist forces, [he] said in a statement.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but The New York Times reports that local authorities are blaming the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has been fighting for Assamese independence since 1979.

In 2004, The Christian Science Monitor described the region as diverse and at times simmering with tension:

The region is both physically and culturally distant from the rest of India. The diversity here is staggering. The region's seven states are home to more than 200 different ethnic groups that include Christians, Hindus, animists, Muslims, and even a tribe believed to be Jewish. More than 7,400 civilians, 2,100 security personnel, and 4,500 alleged militants have died in a dozen ethnic and religious conflicts throughout the northeast since 1992.

Recently, the government of India has enjoyed a cease-fire with some parts of ULFA although it has maintained its campaign against those parts that would not commit to the deal. "So the ULFA is striking back in a massive way by taking on soft targets," Assam police chief RN Mathur told the BBC.

According to The Hindu, ULFA has denied responsibility for the attacks.

Terrorist attacks in India have become more frequent and more deadly in recent months. The country's Muslim communities are often blamed for the violence and feel unfairly accused, reports The New York Times, which says that attacks like Thursday's bombings in Assam highlight the deep problems India faces with regional separatism.

The blasts in Assam were the latest in a series of bomb attacks in several parts of India. Even by the standards of this fractious and sprawling country, the spate of recent terrorism has been unusual and unsettling: seven attacks in four months, with a death toll of about 150.
India's Muslims have grown resentful at being blamed by the authorities for many of the attacks. Last Friday, though, the police said that they had arrested three people suspected of involvement in bombings last month in Malegaon, a small city in western Maharashtra State that has long simmered with religious tension. At least one of the suspects belonged to the youth wing of a Hindu nationalist political party, police officials said, and several Indian news organizations have described the case as the first glimpse into radical Hindu groups that plot terrorist attacks. The bomb in Malegaon exploded in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, killing four people.
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