AHMEDABAD, India (AFP) – At least 29 people were killed and over 100 wounded Saturday in a string of more than a dozen coordinated bomb attacks in the tinderbox western Indian city of Ahmedabad, officials said.
Indian television channels said a little-known Islamist group calling itself the “Indian Mujahedeen” had claimed responsibility, and the state’s right-wing Hindu leader warned he “shall not spare” the culprits.
Ahmedabad is the communally-sensitive capital of the opposition Hindu nationalist-ruled state of Gujarat, where thousands were killed in Hindu attacks against Muslims in 2002.
The series of 16 bombings in the city, two of them targeting emergency hospitals trying to deal with the victims, came just a day after a similar wave of attacks in the southern technology city of Bangalore.
A police spokesman said 29 bodies had been recovered and more than 100 people admitted to hospital. Many were hit by flying nuts, bolts and ball bearings packed into bombs that were clearly designed to cause maximum casualties.
“The land of Mahatma Gandhi has been bloodied by terrorists whom we shall not spare,” said Narendra Modi, the firebrand chief minister of Gujarat state — the birthplace of India’s independence hero.
“Terrorists are waging a war against India. We should be prepared for a long battle against terrorism,” he said.
The bombs were detonated with timer devices and all went off in the space of 36 minutes, officials said.
“We saw a blue bag near the trauma centre, and before we could react we saw it explode in a shine of blinding light,” said doctor Vipul Patil at the privately-run Dhanwantari Hospital.
Reporters at two hospitals saw victims with severe injuries lying on the floor as panicked medical staff, themselves traumatised by the bombs, struggled to cope. The emergency room of another hospital was littered by broken glass and smeared with blood.
India had sounded a nationwide alert on Friday after a series of eight low-intensity bombs went off in IT capital Bangalore and left one dead and seven wounded.
Major Indian cities have been hit by a string of apparently well-planned bomb attacks in recent years, with officials in the capital regularly pointing the finger at arch-rival Pakistan or militants backed by Islamabad.
Pakistan denies backing Muslim militants, including those operating in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.
But earlier in the week India said the two countries’ peace process was “under stress,” repeating allegations that “elements” in Islamabad were behind an upsurge in militant activities including this month’s suicide attack against its Kabul embassy.
“We are surprised that despite a high security alert sounded yesterday after the bomb attacks in Bangalore, the blasts occurred today in Ahmedabad. We are shocked,” India’s Junior Home Minister Shakeel Ahmed said in New Delhi.
“It seems there is a lack of coordination between (federal) intelligence agencies and people involved in the policing,” he said.
An Indian security expert and former head of the country’s foreign intelligence service, B. Raman, said he feared a communal backlash in Gujarat, where tensions from the 2002 violence still linger.
State leader Modi is a highly controversial figure in India — and is still accused of turning a blind eye to the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots which left 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
“Hospitals are targeted to maximise public anger and this is serious,” he said.
After Saturday’s attacks, large numbers of police and paramilitaries were quickly mobilised. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also appealed for calm.
“So far there has been no communal tensions in Gujarat or in Ahmedabad and we thank god for that,” said the state’s federally-appointed Governor Navin Kishore Sharma.