38 dead, over 180 injured as blasts rock Maharashtra town

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Friday, September 8, 2006

At least 30 people have died and 112 people have been injured, many critically in three explosions in a crowded market in the town of Malegaon, in the state of Maharashtra in India. The explosions appeared to have been caused by crude bombs and occurred between 1:45 PM and 1:49 PM (IST) on Friday afternoon. The blasts took place near the Noorani Mosque, when a Shab-e-Barat procession was passing through the market. Curfew has been imposed in the town, which itself has been cordoned off, to prevent communal tensions from escalating. Mobile networks in the city have been jammed.

Maharashtra DCP P. S Pasricha, however, claimed that only one blast had occurred resulting in 5 fatalities. An MLA from the area later confirmed the occurrence of three explosions. Special Inspector-General of Nashik, P. K Jain, said that two state police companies and ten Rapid Action Force had been sent to Malegaon to control the situation. He also added that prior intelligence had been received about the possibility of such an attack.

An angry mob attacked the Superintendent of Police when his team tried to reach the blast site. Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, R R Patil is headed to the town to assess the situation. The Union Home Secretary has asked the state authorities to speak to local leaders in Malegaon and ask them to help maintain the peace there. A high alert has been declared throughout the state and paramilitary forces are en route to control the situation in communally volatile areas.

Malegaon, in the Nasik district of Maharashtra, is famous for its powerlooms, and one of the biggest cities in Northwest Maharashtra. It has a history of communal tensions between its majority Muslim population and their Hindu neighbours. The town witnessed riots in 1984 and then again in 1992 (in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition) and, most recently, in 2001.

The blasts happened a day after a controversy over India's national song, the Vande Mataram heightened communal tensions.

Suspects

The police are investigating the incident and the Times of India newspaper suggests that either the Hindu Sangh Parivar organisation Bajrang Dal or the Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar eToiba may be responsible. The Bajrang Dal attacked the Mohammadi Masjid in Parbhani and mosques at Pona and Jalna earlier this year following a similar pattern. Lashkar-e-Toiba might want to create a communal divide between Hindus and Muslims.

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