Multiple low intensity explosions rocked the city of Pune in Maharashtra, India, Wednesday evening. Four low-impact bombs went off in a quick succession in the span of 48 minutes between 7:27 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on the bustling Junglee Maharaj Road.
Seven Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were planted in a one-kilometer area, of which four went off while three were defused by the bomb disposal squad. Three people were reportedly injured in the blasts.
The first explosion occurred near a statue outside an auditorium while the second was caused by a bomb hidden in a dustbin outside a McDonald's outlet. The other two explosive devices, placed near a college and a bank, reportedly went off from a bicycle.
The Police Commissioner of Pune, Gulabrao Pol, called the explosions "an act of mischief" while Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh said a terror angle could not be ruled out since it seemed like a planned attack.
A cyclist, now identified as a local tailor named Dayanand Patil, was injured in the explosions and was allegedly carrying one of the bombs. He has been taken into custody and is being treated in a local hospital for minor injuries. Patil has been kept under strict surveillance to ascertain if he played any role in the blasts. The explosives carried by him were kept in a cake box with two detonators, a pencil cell and sticky gel.
Three bombs were defused by the bomb detection and anti-terror squad. The entire one-kilometer area was cordoned off.
India's new Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was due to visit his home state of Maharashtra on the day of the blasts. He was scheduled to attend an awards ceremony in Pune Wednesday evening that was cancelled earlier in the day. Shinde said the government had ordered an inquiry into the blasts and sleuths of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the National Security Guard were rushed to Pune. He appealed to the citizens to keep calm and not panic.
A preliminary probe by the NIA points to a terror plot as the bombs were timer-driven devices that went off in a coordinated and well-planned manner.
The question uppermost in everyone's minds now is whether these blasts were a terror recce before a major attack or a dry run before a massive terror assault? A well-calibrated timer device being detonated cannot be an "act of mischief."
The blasts happened on the eve of the Rakshabandhan, a festival celebrated all over northern India, and the timing couldn't be more perfect as the crowd would be out in larger numbers with people shopping for 'Rakhis' (a sacred thread which the Indian women tie around the wrists of their brothers on the occasion) and gifts.
The Pune police may have termed the low intensity blasts as mischief-mongering, but anti-terror agencies are not ruling out a terrorist attack. Sources say the bicycle used in the blast was a brand new one, indicating that it was clearly a well-coordinated attack. The defused bombs were sent for forensic examination and ammonium nitrate was said to have been used in the explosives, local TV channels reported.
Patil, one of the three injured in the explosion, hasn't suffered any grievous burn injuries except for minor splinter wounds, which also points to the fact that the man was not caught unawares in the blast.
The NIA is of the opinion that the operative is not a sneaker cell but a possible terror outfit. Agencies are also exploring the possibility of the explosions being timed to coincide with the exit of P. Chidambaram as the Home Minister, whose term in the office beheld a firm response to terror threats in the country.
A network of several distinct terror outfits reportedly exists in Pune. The university town is said to be infested with terror modules. In 2010, more than 15 people were killed in a bomb blast at the German Bakery in the city. It was the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen, a terror outfit with strong network across the cities of Maharashtra.
These are turbulent times ahead for Home Minister Shinde who's just groped his way out of the Ministry of Power which faced back-to-back grid failures, leading to massive blackouts in 21 states in the country two days ago.