Bomb blast in holy Indian city, one killed, dozens injured
Bomb blast in Indian holy city Click on thumbnail to view
Photos: AFP, Reuters
LUCKNOW, INDIA - A bomb exploded at a crowded bathing point Tuesday in Varanasi, one of India's holiest Hindu cities and a major tourist destination, killing a young girl and wounding dozens of people.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the blast was the work of "terrorists", while a home-grown Muslim militant group, Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility in an email sent to various media outlets.
The explosion at around 6:30pm (1300 GMT) targeted one of the city's many ritual bathing ghats on the banks of the holy Ganges river, which was thronged with hundreds of Hindu devotees.
Police described the blast as one of "medium intensity".
Senior police officer Brij Lal told reporters in the state capital Lucknow that a two-year-old girl had been killed, and that foreigners were among those wounded.
Prime Minister Singh led condemnation of the attack.
"It was an attempt to weaken our resolve to fight the evil forces of terrorism, and the terrorists will not succeed," he told reporters in New Delhi.
The Home Ministry said other major Indian cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, had been put on high alert.
The blast triggered a stampede in which dozens more were injured. "There were people running everywhere and falling over each other. It was chaos," one witness, Ramlal Jaichand, told the the Hindi news channel IBN 7.
Another witness said he saw eight people who had been injured by what appeared to be metal pellets.
Television showed footage of a blood-covered foreigner being treated in a Varanasi hospital, while the PTI news agency later reported that at least 25 people were wounded including an Italian and a French national.
The explosion shook nearby buildings and damaged iron railings around a nearby Hindu temple.
Large numbers of Hindu devotees gather in Varanasi throughout the year to cremate their dead on the banks of the Ganges, and bathe in the waters.
In 2006, some 20 people were killed and 60 injured in two bomb explosions at a temple and a train station in Varanasi that were blamed on Muslim militants.
Tuesday's blast came a day after the anniversary of the 1992 razing of a mosque by Hindu zealots in the Uttar Pradesh temple town of Ayodhya, which sparked some of post-independence India's worst communal violence.
The email from the Indian Mujahedeen said the attack was retaliation for a recent court ruling that divided the disputed Ayodhya site between Hindu and Muslim claimants.
The verdict, which has been appealed, was widely seen as favouring the Hindu litigants.
The authenticity of the email was still being verified, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.
"The government condemns the attempt to disturb the peace and harmony by a misguided group," he added.
The Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for a series of blasts in the Indian capital in 2008 which left 14 people dead and several others injured.
The group, which also calls itself "the militia of Islam", first came to public attention in November 2007 following serial blasts in Uttar Pradesh.
Security throughout Gujarat state was to be heightened after the explosion, PTI reported.