In a suspected terrorist attack, 37 people were killed and over 150 injured when three high-intensity bombs exploded, including one near a mosque in Malegaon town in Nasik district, Maharashtra.
Police suspect that the terror attack, clearly targeting hundreds of Muslims who had gathered on September 8 to offer their Friday prayers and remember the dead on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat, was orchestrated by anti-communal groups and the device used were crude bombs.
Curfew was imposed and paramilitary forces were deployed in this communally sensitive town immediately after the near simultaneous blasts that also ripped apart the busy Mushaira Chowk and Ayesha Nagar locality early afternoon.
However, the following day, curfew was lifted.
Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil, who visited the blast sites, said 37 people were killed in the three explosions.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil did not rule out the possibility of terrorist hand behind the blast. Such incidents do not take place on their own. Someone triggers it. We all know who they are, he said.
The blast came days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that intelligence agencies had warned of more terrorist attacks across the country, possibly on economic, and religious targets as well as on nuclear installations.
India has been on a heightened security alert after a series of bombs on commuter trains in Mumbai killed 186 people in July.
Asking people to maintain communal harmony, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who met the blasts' injured in hospitals, said the acts were aimed at creating a divide in the society.
I came here to see the damage caused... And above all to meet the people and give my condolences to them. The most important thing at this juncture is to maintain communal harmonyâ€¦The best thing is to live together, she said.
Compensation cheques of Rs. 1 lakh, announced by the Maharashtra government, were disbursed to the families of the deceased.
According to some news reports, many blast victims vented their frustration and fury on the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, claiming that the political party did little to keep its promise of protecting the lives of the minorities and developing the locality.
My people are telling me that there are around 20-plus bodies lying inside the (hospital) campus, following the explosions, said L.N. Chauhan, chief medical officer of the privately-run Wadia hospital.
Around 150 patients had been brought to our hospital and we treated some of them and sent the rest to (the city's two) other hospitals, he told Agence France-Presse by telephone from Malegaon.
Malegaon used to be a wealthy textile town but a slump in the industry has caused high unemployment, AFP reported.
Meanwhile, the police have claimed to have collected some clues with regard to Malegaon blasts and have seized two boxes reportedly containing explosives from the vicinity of one of the sites.
Forensic and bomb-squad experts are working to ascertain the contents of the boxes, besides trying to find out nature of the explosives used in the explosions, sources said.
We have gathered some clues about the blasts, but it will be premature to comment till they are verified, Nasik range Inspector General of Police P.K. Jain said from Malegaon.
A team of Anti-terrorist squad (ATS) led by DIG Subodh Jaiswal is camping in Malegaon and trying to ascertain if the present blasts have any similarity to those in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra in the past.
According to a senior Maharashtra police officer, the explosives were detonated by a mechanical or a digital timer.
Many of the injured have splinter injuries, indicating that explosive devices similar to timer-fitted crude bombs could have been used, the official said. There were definitely timer-fitted devices and evidence at the moment suggests that an analogue or a digial timer may have been used.
ATS sources were non-committal whether deadly explosive RDX was used, even in minute quantity, in the explosive devices.
The police have also released sketches of the terror suspects and have launched a manhunt for the two men believed to be involved in the bomb attack.
Police said witnesses and residents of Malegaon had come forward with information on Monday after sketches of the two suspects were released late Sunday.
Police identified the men after questioning the owners of two shops where the bicycles that were rigged with the explosives used in the attack were sold.
We are pursuing leads from information we are getting from the public, said Malegaon area police Superintendent Rajvardhan. Definitely the men could have had a part in the bombings, but it's still early to specify what part they played.
We cannot say at this juncture if their work was limited to buying the cycles or if they also packed them with explosives, said IGP Jain, who released the sketches.