Nine bomb blasts in a coordinated terror attack rocked Buddhist pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya and its famed Mahabodhi temple complex in south central Bihar early on Sunday, injuring two monks.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was left squirming because the low-intensity blasts, triggered by suspected Indian Mujahideen operatives, occurred despite repeated intelligence alerts from central security agencies.
“It does seem like a terror attack... No (terrorist) outfit has claimed responsibility,” Union minister of state for home RPN Singh said about the string of blasts between 5.30 and 5.58am.
Buddhists from all over the world visit the temple, which has the Bodhi tree under which Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. “The holy Bodhi tree is safe and there is no damage to it,” said Bihar director general of police Abhayanand.
The police said four blasts took place inside the Mahabodhi temple complex and three occurred at the Terega monastery, while one each were triggered near an 80-feet-tall Buddha statue and a vacant tourist bus parked close to the temple complex.
The police said two live bombs were defused in the town and a third in a village nearby. According to intelligence sources, Bodh Gaya has been in the crosshairs of Pakistan-based terrorists who want to avenge the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
The improvised explosive devices were set off with timers within a 2 km radius of the 18 sq km town located about 140 km southwest of capital Patna. While IM operations are unknown in these parts, Gaya is the hotbed of Maoist activity in Bihar.
'Temple, Bodhi Tree safe'
The temple and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts which shook the holy town frequented by Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asia.
Union home secretary Anil Goswami said in New Delhi that serial explosions inside and outside Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar were a terror attack and NIA and NSG teams have been sent for post-blasts investigations.
Security has been beefed at the temple and adjoining areas, Director General of Police Abhayanand told reporters, adding CCTV footage was being examined for leads to the terrorists.
The Intelligence Bureau (IB) had alerted the state that two terrorists, brothers originally from Bihar but based abroad in recent years, had entered the state to carry out terror attacks, according to an official aware about the intelligence input.
'IM may be behind blast'
Last year, the Delhi Police claimed to have foiled a 'fidayeen' attack in the town with the arrest of suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) elements to avenge "atrocities" against Muslims in Myanmar. Security agencies suspect that IM may be behind today's multiple blasts.
"While four blasts took place inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, three occurred in Karmapa monastery, one each near near the famous 80-ft Buddha statue and at the bus stand near bypass," DIG Magadh range Nayyer Hussnain Khan said.
Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said two live bombs were defused in the town. A third bomb, hidden in a cyclinder, was recovered from a village near Body Gaya hours after the blasts and defused.
The Bihar chief minister demanded deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) for security of the shrine.
"The serial blasts deserve strongest condemnation in strongest possible words as the perpetrators targeted the place of religious faith of crores of people with an aim to create fear among them," Nitish Kumar said.
President, PM condemn blasts
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the blasts, saying such attacks on religious places will "never be tolerated".
Mahabodhi temple, the target of serial blasts, has been closed for general public but the prayers will continue to be held as usual, Abhayanand said.
The DGP said no harm has come to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Buddhist temple.
The two injured monks, one from Tibet and the other a national of Myanmar, were admitted to Magadh Medical College and Hospital, Arvind Singh, a member of Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee said.
Singh said two bombs, one near the 80 feet statue and another at a bus stand have been defused.
Asked about the nature of explosives used, SK Bharadwaj, ADG (Law and Order) said they were low intensity time bombs.
"We got information about six-seven months back that there may be a terror attack on the Mahabodhi Temple. After that we had beefed up security and deployed extra forces", police said.
At the temple, security arrangements by police are only outside the temple while the security inside is looked after by temple trust officials. a senior police official said.
"The sanctum sanctorum of the Mahabodhi Temple is intact. The temple premises have been sanitised," Khan said.
The state government had taken steps to improve security measures at the Mahabodhi temple and adjoining areas on the basis of all inputs given by the intelligence agencies, claimed Principal Secretary (Home) Amir Subhani on being asked why there was laxity in security.
According to intelligence sources, Bodh Gaya has been in the crosshairs of Pakistan-based terrorists , who want to avenge violence against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
NIA team arrives in Bodh Gaya
An NIA team has arrived in Bodh Gaya to probe the attack, a police officer said.
The five-member NIA team comprising a DIG and two SPs reached here by a special plane from New Delhi and drove straight to the Mahabodhi temple to start investigations, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Gaya Range, Nayyar Hasnain Khan, said.
None of the NIA officials spoke to the waiting media and briskly walked towards the famous Buddhist shrine.
BJP slams Nitish
Attacking the Centre and the Bihar government, BJP and other opposition parties accused both of having failed to take steps to avert the terror strike despite getting timely warnings.
"It is a serious issue that central agencies had warned about this attack and given specific inputs that Bodh Gaya would be attacked and still no proper arrangements were made (by the state government). The central government must also take responsibility to avoid such attacks," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
Bihar BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said no measures were taken to prevent the attack despite intelligence tip off and said the Centre and the state governments cannot escape the responsibility for the blasts.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad put the entire blame on the JD(U) government in the state.
"If intelligence inputs were given about possible attacks, the Bihar government has to take the full responsibility," he said.Congress general secretary and communication department in-charge Ajay Maken said, "We condemn this horrific incident in Bodh Gaya. I urge the state government and other agencies to bring the guilty to justice as soon as possible. We also wish speedy recovery to all the injured."
Dalai Lama pained over blasts
Terming the series of blasts atMahabodhi temple complex in Bihar as "unfortunate", Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama today said "few individuals" could be behind the attack.
"The incident is really unfortunate," he said, adding that few individuals could be responsible for the attack.
The Tibetan government-in-exile said it was deeply saddened over the blasts.
"I am deeply saddened to learn about the series of bomb blasts at Mahabodhi temple. My prayers for the injured and their family members", Prime Minister of the government-in-exile Lobsang Sangay said in a statement Dharamsala.
With inputs from Anirban Guha Roy and Dev Raj (HT Correspondents), PTI, IANS