Mental shift

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Scores Killed in Blasts in Northeast India

Posted by jytmkh on October 30, 2008

 By Rama Lakshmi

Photo by AP

Photo by AP

Washington Post Foreign Service

NEW DELHI, Oct. 30 — Eleven deadly bomb blasts ripped through India’s northeastern state of Assam Thursday, killing about 50 people and leaving more than 300 injured. The serial blasts took place before noon, within a span of 50 minutes.

State officials described the explosions as the worst ever in the violent and troubled history of Assam, where separatist insurgency groups have been active since the early 1980s and recent bomb attacks have been blamed on Islamist militants from neighboring Bangladesh.

The first of the spate of bombs went off in a crowded vegetable and fruit market called Ganeshguri, in Guwahati. The intensity of the blast was so high that it caused a major fire in the area and gave rise to a thick plume of smoke that engulfed the entire market and places nearby.

The second explosion was in the car park of a government office and another at a bazaar near a police station.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but officials indicated that it could be the handiwork of a local militant group called the United Front of Asom (ULFA) that has been fighting against the Indian state for an independent homeland. But officials also said they could not rule out the involvement of other groups.

“It is very early to make a conclusion, but ULFA has a history of triggering serial blasts,” Assam’s health minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, told reporters. “Most of the bombs were planted in crowded places like markets and office complexes. So it shows that the perpetrators wanted high casualty.”

Police officials said that the number of the dead may rise. Six of the blasts took place in the state capital, Guwahati.

“We have learned that these are powerful, high-intensity bomb blasts,” said Shakeel Ahmad, India’s junior home minister. “Who is behind this, what caused it, we do not know yet. Our officials have gone to the spots to assess the situation.”

Television images from the market showed mangled heaps of metal and dismembered corpses strewn in the midst of bloodied heaps of potatoes and onions. A perceived delay in the time it took for emergency help to arrive led to public fury and street violence, as angry, slogan-shouting crowds set government vehicles on fire.

An injured eyewitness told an English news channel, Times Now, about the scene.

“I had gone to the market when I heard the blasts. We were shocked. People were running everywhere, vehicles were damaged and on fire,” he said. “The smoke blinded us. The sound of the blast was deafening.”

Top officials of Assam went into a huddle in Guwahati to deal with the emergency, and a central team from New Delhi left for the state by mid-day to assess the situation and aid in the investigation.

Police imposed a curfew after the angry crowds took to the streets.

Since May, several Indian cities have been targeted by bombings in public places, killing more than 160 people. Officials have arrested suspects in some of the blasts from a new group that calls itself the Indian Mujahideen. Last week, some Hindu radicals were also arrested for their alleged involvement in one of the blasts.

Several separatists groups are active in Assam and India’s other northeastern Himalayan states, bordering Bangladesh, China, Myanmar and Bhutan. Dozens of these groups, broadly organized along ethnic lines, have been fighting New Delhi and each other for greater control of the region.

Thursday’s serial bombings were the third bomb blast incident in Assam this year. Powerful explosions in March and June had rocked the state. More than 10,000 people have died in the northeastern region in the past decade.

 

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