NEW DELHI – A series of bombs exploded across the ancient city of Jaipur on Tuesday, killing at least 60 people and transforming busy markets, a jewelry bazaar and a Hindu temple into scenes of carnage.
All seven blasts were within the old walls of the western city known for its pink-hued palaces, and suspicion quickly fell on Islamic militant groups blamed for a string of attacks in India in recent years. Police said an eighth bomb was found and defused by police.
“Obviously, it’s a terrorist” attack, said A.S. Gill, the police chief of Rajasthan, the state where Jaipur is located. “The way it has been done, the attempt was to cause the maximum damage to human life.”
The explosions began around 7:30 p.m. One went off at a market near a temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. Tuesday is the day of worship set aside for Hanuman, and the temple was crowded with people offering prayers on the way home from work.
Another bomb detonated near the Johari Bazaar, the city’s jewelry market that is a popular destination for tourists. The tourist season ended in March, however, and there were no immediate indication that foreigners had been caught in any of the explosions.
Parikshit Bhandari, who saw the attack near the jewelry market, said there was “blood all around and wounded people crawling on the ground.”
Bombing sites were littered with dropped shopping bags, mangled bicycles, damaged cars and overturned bicycle rickshaws, the most popular mode of transport in the crowded lanes of Jaipur.
A senior Rajasthan police officer, A.K. Jain, said 60 people were killed and 150 wounded.
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.
Jaiswal refused to say if he was talking about Pakistan. But he suggested the bombings were connected to previous attacks on India, saying that “the blasts are part of a big conspiracy.”
Indian authorities have blamed Pakistan-based Islamic extremist groups for a spate of bombings that have killed nearly 400 people in this predominantly Hindu country of 1.1 billion people since 2005. Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, denies any role in the bombings.
The attacks have run the gamut from July 2006 train bombings that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai, India’s financial center, to small blasts like the one that struck a Muslim shrine in Rajasthan last year, killing two people.
Each new bombing has brought fears of a fresh outbreak of the violence between Hindus and Muslims that has sporadically bled India throughout its history, and authorities appealed for calm after Tuesday’s attack.
Authorities quickly ordered alerts in New Delhi, Mumbai and several other cities. Security was also stepped up at airports and railway stations across the country.
In Washington, the U.S. government condemned the attack. “The United States stands with the government and people of India in their ongoing fight to eliminate the scourge terrorism,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Jaipur is one of the major attractions in Rajasthan, a desert region dotted with palaces and temples that draw hundreds of thousands of Indians and foreigners every year, from bargain-hunting backpackers to celebrities like Mick Jagger.
While no foreigners appeared to have been caught in Tuesday’s attack, it caused worries in the tourism business.
“We are all nervous. We don’t want Jaipur’s economy to go down,” said Manoj Sharma, a New Delhi travel agent.
Still, he said, it will be months before temperatures in Rajasthan dip below 100 degrees and the high season for tourists begins. By then, he hopes, fears will have faded.