In what is suspected to be the first-ever terror attack in Bihar,nine low-intensity blasts struck Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya early Sunday,leaving a Tibetan student and a Burmese resident who were meditating there injured. The temple structure was not damaged in the attack. Three live bombs were later recovered from near the temple premises.
Four of the bombs went off inside the Mahabodhi complex,on either side of the temple. The first blast took place near the Bodhi tree,located behind the sanctum sanctorum,at 5.25 am,as per CCTV records. Within the next two minutes,three other bombs went off,at Maa Tara temple in front of the main temple entrance,near a peepal tree towards the north of the temple and inside an ambulance parked near the Butter Lamp House.
The other bombs struck near the temple complex,between 5.40 am and 7.45 am.
Vilasa GGA,a 26-year-old research scholar from Bodhgaya-based Myanmar Buddhist Academy Centre,and Tenzing Dorjee (60),a staffer of Nigma temple,were injured in the first blast. They suffered splinter injuries and are now out of danger.
All the bombs had timer devices,with instructions on where to place them written in Urdu on them. For example,the fifth bomb,that targeted Bodhgayas signature 80-ft Buddha statue located a kilometre away from the Mahabodi temple complex had bada but (big statue) scribbled on it. Most of the blasts were caused by cylinder bombs,and some
were packed in plastic bags. Each weighed around 1 kg.
No group has so far taken responsibility,though intelligence officials are probing the role of Indian Mujahideen. Some of its alleged activists held for the 2012 Pune blasts had reportedly confessed to planning an attack on the Mahabodhi temple. Sketches of two suspects were released in the evening.
Officials are considering the possibility of the attack being in retaliation to the killing of Muslims in Myanmar. It is definitely a terror attack but involvement of any particular group is not clear, said a top source.
Initial forensic reports suggest the use of RDX,TNT and ammonium nitrate in the bombs. An NIA team from Kolkata has collected the samples.
As it is off season,there were very few people at the temple in the early morning hours,limiting the number of victims. In the temple itself,only the marble staircase near the Bodhi tree (under which Buddha was said to have achieved enlightenment) was damaged while a glass case containing what is believed to be a footprint of Buddha developed cracks. The ambulance that was struck was empty at the time. Its oil tank was ripped apart in the explosion.
The blast that hit the big Buddha statue at 5.40 am also didnt cause much harm,apart from damaging its back portion. The bomb was kept on the pedestal that rises to a height of 20 feet. A bomb kept on the left leg of the statue above it,of a sitting Buddha,did not go off. The bomb was defused later.
The sixth and seventh bombs exploded around 6 am,within a gap of two minutes,inside a lodge of the Tergar Monastery,700 metres from the temple. Though there was some inmates present,no one was injured.
The eighth bomb went off in an open ground near the monastery,while the ninth blast occured at 7.45 am inside an empty tourist bus parked nearby. The bus was partially damaged.
The anti-disposal bomb squad later recovered a live bomb from the monastery lodge and from near a hotel.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,who visited the spot,demanded that the temple security be handed over to the CISF. Adding that there was no reason to panic,he said: The NIA team is handling the investigation. CRPF and state police teams have been deployed at Bodhgaya.
At present,14 personnel of the Bihar Polices Anti-Terrorism Squad look after the temples external security. The Bodhi Temple Management Committee employs a dozen private unarmed security guards for the temple premises. As per temple norms,armed security cannot be deployed inside.
Since the blasts,blame game has started. Bodhgaya is an international tourist centre and a major source of revenue for Bihar,attracting over 12 lakh foreign tourists annually.
The Gaya police that recently held a meeting to review temple security accused the temple management committee of not monitoring CCTV footage of the premises properly. There are 16 CCTVs installed in the main temple,of which one is non-functional.
Sources said the most lax aspect was that devotees were allowed inside the temple round the clock. Anyone paying Rs 100 is allowed to medidate inside the temple at night. There is only one metal detector gate to monitor entry,though the temple gets an average of 5,000 tourists daily in the off season and 12,000-15,000 in the peak season,which is between October and February.
An emergency meeting of the management committee held Sunday afternoon decided to hand over the entire security of the temple to the police,one of the commitee members,Arvind Singh,said.
The locals are afraid of a fallout on tourism. Foreign tourists may not come in the usual big numbers in the coming season, said Manoj Kumar,a hotelier.