13 blasts rip through Assam; at least 65 dead, 342 wounded

13 blasts rip through Assam; at least 65 dead, 342 wounded
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First Published: Fri, Oct 31 2008. 12 09 AM IST

Rescue operation: A man tries to extinguish the fire at a blast site near a court in Guwahati. Most of Thursday’s blasts were in crowded markets and bombs were hidden in motorcycles or scooters. Anupa
Rescue operation: A man tries to extinguish the fire at a blast site near a court in Guwahati. Most of Thursday’s blasts were in crowded markets and bombs were hidden in motorcycles or scooters. Anupa
Updated: Fri, Oct 31 2008. 12 09 AM IST
Guwahati: Thirteen bomb blasts in quick succession ripped through Guwahati, the commercial capital of Assam, and three other towns on Thursday, killing at least 65 people and wounding 342, police said. No one has owned up the attacks so far.
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Assam has been a focus of a separatist insurgency for decades, but it has also recently suffered bomb attacks blamed on Islamic militants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Many of Thursday’s blasts were in crowded markets in the state and many bombs were hidden in motorcycles or scooters. Firefighters doused the 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.
Television channels showed some people lying on the streets, their clothes soaked in blood. The wounded were helped into ambulances by local people and police.
“Immediately after the blast there was complete darkness for a while and I later saw several bodies and severed limbs all around,” said Bikash Goyal, a witness in Guwahati.
Twenty-nine people were killed in four blasts in Guwahati and the remainder in three other towns in the state, according to a spokesman in the office of Assam’s chief minister.
Rescue operation: A man tries to extinguish the fire at a blast site near a court in Guwahati. Most of Thursday’s blasts were in crowded markets and bombs were hidden in motorcycles or scooters. Anupam Nath / AP
Pankaj Goswami, a witness at one of the blasts in Guwahati, said: “The impact of the blast was so huge, a packed bus got half burnt and we pulled out a lot of injured people and sent them to hospital.” Security analysts and military intelligence officials said the blasts bore hallmarks of strikes by Islamic militants.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), Assam’s major separatist group often blamed for attacks, denied involvement. The attacks were condemned across South Asia.
“I am confident that the people of India will rise unitedly against these attempts to disturb peace and harmony and to destroy our social fabric,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
Pakistan, often blamed by New Delhi for fomenting trouble in neighbouring India, condemned the attacks and called for international cooperation to tackle strikes by militants.
Local television said a curfew was imposed in Guwahati after angry crowds attacked police and set cars on fire. Police fired in the air to disperse the angry mob.
Bappa Majumdar contributed to this story.
FAQs connected to Thursday serial blasts
Has Assam or the Northeast had a history of blasts?
Yes, since the early 1990s. But Thursday’s serial blasts in Guwahati have been the most devastating since 1992 when Bodo militants bombed the Paltanbazar area killing 23. The prime accused in that blast rules the Bodoland Territorial Council while another is a minister in the Tarun Gogoi government. The Bodo militants also bombed the Brahmaputra Mail in December 1996 killing 46.
Is Ulfa capable of triggering such blasts?
Presumably yes. Owing to manpower shortage and growing influence of ISI and DGFI, the Ulfa changed track by the turn of the millennium and took to targeting civilians through hand grenades and IEDs. Most of its strikes, however, were against the Hindi-speaking. They were also of low intensity, until the Independence Day strike in northern Assam’s Dhemaji town in 2004 killing 13 children. The Ulfa also carried a couple of serial blasts in the past three years, mostly low-intensity.
Are other outfits into explosives like the Ulfa?
The disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers were explosives experts, ironically trained by Indian agencies trying to counter a pro-Christian rival outfit. The NSCN-backed Adivasi National Liberation Army also triggered a blast aboard the Rajdhani Express last year killing six persons.
Why then is the finger being pointed at Islamic groups?
The “transformation” of the Ulfa from militant to terror group has had a lot to do with jihadis. Since most of the leaders of Ulfa and other Northeast outfits have taken shelter in Bangladesh, they are controlled by Intelligence agencies reportedly in league with Islamic groups such as HuJI and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. Besides, police say the Ulfa has been using a couple of at least 16 homegrown Islamic rebel groups in the Northeast for outsourcing terror. The first of the major jihadi strikes — one ISI operative involved was later caught — was at Dimapur in Nagaland in October 2004. The blast killed 30. Agartala happened earlier this month; here again a tribal outfit had links with HuJI.
Who then is responsible for Thursday’s strikes?
Going by history, the Ulfa is one of the prime suspects. But going by the modus operandi — precision of blasts, high casualty and choice of sites — officials do not rule out “Islamic groups”, particularly the cross-border HuJI and their local allies such as MULTA and MULFA. Reasons: The blasts follow a pattern, similar to those in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi, and it could be a statement from jihadis — that they are capable of striking anywhere, anytime. Worst case scenario: coordinated strikes by both Ulfa and jihadis.
rahul.karmakar@hindustantimes.com
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First Published: Fri, Oct 31 2008. 12 09 AM IST