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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Gujarat bombings

India leaders have appealed for calm after a series of co-ordinated bombings ripped through Ahmedabad, leaving at least 45 people dead and more than 100 wounded, repots Reuters.

The 16 blasts on Saturday evening in the tense and troubled city in the state of Gujarat, which were preceded by emails from a group claiming responsibility, came the day after another series of bombs in India's IT hub, Bangalore.

In the email that was sent to media organisations, a previously little known group that claimed it was behind the bombs suggested the blasts were being carried out in revenge for the killing of hundreds of Muslims by Hindu mobs in 2002.

The 14-page email said: "In the name of Allah, the Indian Mujahedeen strike again! Do whatever you can, within 5 minutes from now, feel the terror of death!" The Indian Mujahedeen was apparently unheard of before last May, when it claimed responsibility for a bombing in the tourist city of Jaipur, where 61 were killed and many more were injured.

Indian media said the organisation is believed to be a coalition of three well-known militant groups – the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat ul-Jihad-al-Islami – but there was no independent confirmation of that.

Meanwhile, the army has been asked to patrol the city's streets.

Yet some things about the bombings make little sense. While Gujarat – whose recently re-elected Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has been accused of allowing the 2002 killings to take place – is the centre of Hindu-nationalist, or so-called "saffron", politics, many of Saturday's bombs went off in Ahmedabad's old quarter, which has a largely Muslim population. Some were set off near a hospital. Mr Modi, who has been talked of as a future Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister following his third election victory in December, said the blasts appeared to have been carried out by a group "using a similar modus operandi all over the country".

Other leaders, including the President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, and Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, stressed the need for calm. Mr Singh is expected to visit Ahmedabad today. Despite widespread speculation over the bombers' identity, the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, refused to point the finger of blame. Arriving in Ahmedabad yesterday, he told reporters: "I do not wish to blame anyone right now, this is not in my capacity ... It will not be right to give you half-baked information now. After we have received all details, we will shall inform you."

Saturday's Ahmedabad bombs went off in two stages. The first group was near a busy market and the second group exploded close to a city hospital.

Pankaj Patel lost her son, Rohan, and daughter, Pratha, in the hospital blasts. She told Reuters: "I came with my two children to cheer up my mother who has been admitted to the hospital. They were laughing when the blast occurred. Now they are dead."

The explosions occurred just 24 hours after a series of nine bombs in the southern city of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state, which killed two people and injured many others.

Police have not said whether they believe the attacks are linked. They did say, however, that reports that they had traced the origin of the Ahmedabad email to the city of Mumbai were untrue. The email was sent from a Yahoo account and written in English.

Police in Gujarat said yesterday that they had defused a further three devices, two of them in the diamond-trading city of Surat. Meanwhile, more than 30 people have been rounded up as part of the police investigation.

Tiffin box bombs

For about 180 years, tiffin boxes have been used by tiffinwallahs or dabbawallahs to transport freshly cooked meals to the office workers of India's cities. In Ahmedabad this weekend, they became a source of terror after bombers concealed explosive devices packed with ballbearings in some and left them on bicycles.

Tiffin was the word for tea used during the time of British rule in India. Today, armies of tiffinwallahs collect and deliver hundreds of thousands of meals every day; their error rate is all but zero. The service, which costs a minimal fee, frees commuters from carrying their lunch on extraordinarily crowded public transport and helps those who leave their homes before food has been cooked.

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