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Friday, September 08, 2006

India: Blast kills 30, injures 100

A pair of bombs ripped through the crowded streets of a western Indian city Friday as Muslim worshippers were leaving afternoon prayers, killing 30 people and injuring 100, 56 of them seriously a top official said, calling the violence "a terrorist act."

Authorities quickly clamped a curfew over the city of Malegaon, where the blasts occurred, which has a long history of violence between Muslims and Hindus.

While it was unclear who was behind the attacks, officials reacted quickly, trying to stop revenge attacks across the country's often-sensitive religious divides that have, in the past, lead to spiraling violence.

"Law and order is under control," P.S. Pasricha, Maharashtra state's director-general of police, told The Associated Press. "There's a high alert across the state. We have activated all police machinery to ensure that communal harmony is maintained." Malegaon, a city of about 500,000 that is 75 percent Muslim, is in Maharashtra.

Officials said the bombings were clearly done to terrorize the city.

"It is a terrorist act. It is done by people who don't want peace," Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who announced the new death toll, said at a press conference.

Preliminary reports indicated one bomb may have been rigged to a damaged bicycle found at the scene, Pasricha told reporters earlier, adding "the motive appears to be to create panic and make Hindus and Muslims fight with each other." He spoke in Mumbai, the state capital.

India has suffered through a series of terror bombings over the past year, most recently a carefully planned series of attacks on Mumbai's commuter trains in July that left more than 200 people dead. Those bombings were blamed on Pakistan-based Muslim militants.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that India may be facing even bloodier attacks.

"Reports also suggest that terrorist modules and 'sleeper cells' exist in some of our urban areas, all of which highlight the seriousness of the threat," Singh told India's state chief ministers during a conference on internal security.

"The situation is tense," said Nashik Superintendent of Police Rajvardhan, who uses only one name. Nashik is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Malegaon.

The explosions came as Muslims celebrated the festival of Shabe Barat, or the Night of Fortune, when they hold night-long prayers seeking divine blessings, exchange sweets with neighbors and relatives, and set off fireworks.

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