In the first suspected terror attack since the German Bakery blast in Pune in February this year,a low-intensity bomb exploded on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi this evening,killing an infant and leaving 39 people injured.
The explosion occurred around 6.30 pm during Ganga Aarti,a daily ritual that attracts local people and tourists,at Sheetla Ghat,near Dashashwamedh Ghat,where a blast in 2006 killed seven people.
One-year-old Swastika had come to watch the ritual along with her mother Suman and grandmother Urmila,who suffered minor injuries.
Initial reports said the explosion was caused by a device kept in a milk container,but the theory was discounted late in the night after no metal pieces were found. UP Additional Director-General (Law and Order) Brij Lal said the bomb was perhaps lodged in a deep crack in a wall.
DGP Karamveer Singh said he would not be able to comment immediately on the contents or design of the bomb.
Soon after the blast,a signature Indian Mujahideen email landed at media houses,claiming responsibility and describing the bombing as retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The blast comes a day after the anniversary of the demolition which took place on December 6,1992.
B K Srivastava,Additional Director of Health at Varanasi,said 39 people were injured in the explosion and the subsequent stampede. Late in the evening,government sources descibed the number of those who suffered injuries in the stampede as substantial.
The injured were undergoing treatment at BHU Medical College,Heritage Hospital,SPG Hospital and some other private hospitals.
Srivastava said two of the injured,Phoolmani (60) and Om Prakash Singh (30),were serious. Both were admitted to BHU Medical College.
Varanasi DIG Prem Prakash said the injured included some Indian and foreign tourists.
The Anti-Terror Squad,the bomb squad and senior officers rushed to the spot. The state government flew Panchayat Minister Swami Prasad Maurya,Chief Secretary Atul Kumar and DGP Singh to Varanasi to supervise relief and investigation. Around midnight,Chief Minister Mayawati herself left Lucknow for Varanasi.
The government sounded an alert across the state. Security was stepped up for the judges of the Allahabad High Court who had delivered the verdict on the Ayodhya title suits on September 30.
Tuesdays bombing was the fourth terror attack in Varanasi in five years,and bore striking resemblance to the blast during Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat on February 23,2005. On March 7,2006,20 people were killed in two blasts in rapid succession at Sankatmochan Temple and Cantonment railway station.
On November 23,2007,nine people were killed in a blast at a local court,part of a coordinated attack that also targeted courts in Faizabad and Lucknow around the same time. Four people were killed in Faizabad,none in Lucknow.
The police arrested HuJIs Waliullah and IMs Mohammad Saif for the Sankatmochan blast,but have failed to solve the other two cases.