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Bombs hit Buddhist shrine in India

Two monks injured in series of small explosions at Unesco heritage site. -ST
Nirmala Ganapathy

Wed, Jul 10, 2013
The Straits Times

Indian security personnel inspect the site of an explosion inside the Mahabodhi temple complex at Bodh Gaya in the eastern Indian state of Bihar July 7, 2013.

NEW DELHI - Two Buddhist monks were injured in a series of small bomb blasts in and around the world-famous Mahabodhi Temple in the state of Bihar at a time when tensions have been rising in India's neighbourhood between Buddhists and Muslims.

Clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar - in part fanned by right-wing monks - that have led to the displacement of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have seen tensions rising not just in Myanmar but also in the region from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh.

Signs of public anger about the Rohingya's plight have also been seen in Indonesia, where a plot to bomb the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta was uncovered in April.

In the rare attack on a Buddhist shrine in India, two Buddhist monks, including a 30-year-old from Myanmar, were injured as nine bombs went off within 30 minutes of each other during early morning prayers on Sunday.

Four bombs went off inside the temple complex, three in an adjacent monastery, one at the nearby 24.4m tall statue of the Buddha and the last at a nearby bus stop.

An alert was sent out by the Federal Home Ministry to other states to step up security at all Buddhist sites immediately after the blasts.

Tibetan monk Tenzing Dorji, 50, and Myanmar national Vilas Ga were hurt but not in critical condition, said Federal Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. He said the bombs were set off by timers.

Two more bombs were found and defused by a bomb disposal squad outside the temple complex.

"At around 5.30am, there was a big bang. I was wondering what happened; then two minutes later another blast took place, and it went on," said Mr Nangzey Dorjee, the member secretary of the temple's management committee.

Mr Dorjee, who was in the complex, said there were about 25 to 30 people in the premises at the time of the blasts.

"Fortunately there is no damage to the temple or monument and no damage to the Bodhi tree. This is the lean season," he told The Straits Times.

The 5th century Mahabodhi temple has been on a list of sites vulnerable to a terror attack as tensions rise in Myanmar between Muslims and Buddhists.

In October last year, the Delhi police uncovered a plan to attack the shrine. Sayeed Maqbool, a member of the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen who was arrested for his role in another terror attack in Pune city, told police he was going to recce the Mahabodhi temple for an attack in retaliation for the alleged atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar.

Intelligence input had also been given to the Bihar police in the last six months about the possibility of an attack on the temple.

Bihar's chief minister Nitish Kumar said security would be beefed up even as questions were raised by the opposition about lax security arrangements.

"We are making arrangements for security," Mr Kumar told reporters. "CCTV cameras have been put in the temple, but we will review the security again." Bihar police and a private security agency share security duties in and outside the complex.

Investigations of the blasts were handed over to the National Investigation Agency, a federal body.

Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee condemned the blasts, with Dr Singh saying "such attacks on religious places will never be tolerated".

Declared a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural (Unesco) world heritage site in 2002, the temple was built after the Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree here in 530BC.

Every year, thousands of pilgrims and tourists from Singapore, Sri Lanka, China, Japan and other South-east Asian countries travel to Bodh Gaya where the temple is situated. It is the heart of the country's Buddhist circuit which traces the beginnings of Buddhism and its journey through India.

While the temple is cordoned off from the public as investigations get under way, evening prayers by the temple's monks continued yesterday as scheduled.

"We are trying our best to heighten our security measures," said Mr Dorjee.

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