A powerful bomb blast killed at least nine people and injured another 50 at the historic Mecca Masjid, near the Charminar in Hyderabad, where hundreds of worshippers had gathered to offer Friday prayers. Three more people were killed later when the police opened fire to control protesters who went on the rampage for over three hours.
In most parts of the walled city, home to over 10 lakh Muslims, the situation remained tense. Large numbers of policemen and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed in all sensitive areas. “The situation is under control, though tension prevails,” said Balwinder Singh, Hyderabad city police commissioner.
Singh said two unexploded bombs, which were found in abandoned tiffin boxes inside the 400-year-old mosque, were defused and sent to the State Forensic Science Laboratory.
The blast occurred around 1.25 pm near the wazukhana, a rectangular water tank where the faithful perform ritual ablutions. No group has yet claimed responsibility.
“As the prayers were about to end, I heard a loud explosion,” said Rafique, who visits the mosque every Friday. “But the Imam asked the people to ignore the sound; it could be a tyre bursting. But soon I knew something was wrong… I saw people running in panic.”
DGP MA Basith said elements from outside the state appeared to be involved in the blast. He said the bombs had used a sophisticated mechanism, which was not available in Hyderabad. “The two unexploded bombs are sophisticated and have a trigger. They were remote-controlled by cellphones,” he said.
Police officers in Mumbai, familiar with blast probes, said such bombs are used by the Kashmiri militants. Cell-phone timers have previously been used only in the Kashmir valley by terror outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Hizbul Mujahideen, said a senior Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) officer in Mumbai.
Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who was visiting Delhi, told reporters that it was too early to speculate on who could have been responsible. “This is an intentional sabotage of the peace and tranquility of the state,” he said. He appealed to the people of all communities to remain calm.
Following the blast, angry crowds gathered in the area and pelted the police with stones, set vehicles on fire and ransacked and looted shops. Black flags were hoisted at several road junctions.
The police responded with a lathicharge, lobbied tear gas shells, used water cannons and fired in the air. At two places, it had to open fire on the mob. State Home Minister K Jana Reddy said security has been stepped up in all districts of the state. The Centre has rushed a team of forensic experts to Hyderabad to help investigate the blast.
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