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Hindus Denounce 'Jihadi Terrorism'

South Asia: Angry over a temple attack that killed at least 32, group plans a strike. India blames Pakistan for assault, but Islamabad denies involvement.

September 26, 2002|From Times Wire Services

AHMADABAD, India — Indian troops stood by for deployment in the western state of Gujarat today as Hindu groups called for a nationwide strike over an attack on a temple that left at least 32 people dead.

The World Hindu Council, a group tied to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led the call for the strike.

Meanwhile, Indian officials blamed Pakistan for the attack and said the assault was carried out by gunmen apparently bent on avenging Muslim deaths in religious riots in Gujarat earlier this year. That violence killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Islamabad said India's allegation was false and irresponsible and would only heighten tension between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Most of those killed Tuesday at the Akshardham Temple on the outskirts of Gandhinagar were worshipers, but the dead also included at least one government commando and two policemen. Although initial reports said three gunmen were involved, officials later said there were only two and that both were killed by commandos. Seventy-four people were wounded, including at least 23 police officers.

Brig. Raj Sitapathy said letters found on the gunmen said they carried out the attack "because they could not tolerate what happened to children, women and Muslims during the Gujarat riots."

The letters said the men, who were not identified, belonged to a previously unknown group called Tehreek-e-Kasas, or Movement for Revenge. No other group has claimed responsibility.

The Indian army sent 3,000 soldiers to Gujarat on Wednesday to guard against any new violence. The Defense Ministry said the troops were requested by the state government, which had been criticized for not acting quickly to quell the rioting earlier this year.

The police commissioner in Gujarat's commercial capital, Ahmadabad, said some soldiers would patrol the city today.

The World Hindu Council called for the strike to protest what it called "jihadi terrorism."

"The strike is to warn that if the government does not act in time, people will take the law into their own hands," said Mohan Salekar, the group's secretary general.

The prime minister, who flew into Gandhinagar and visited the temple Wednesday, said: "First there is a violent incident in one place, then there is mindless revenge. We need to end this."

Up to 500 pilgrims, priests, museum guides and souvenir traders were in the complex when the attackers, armed with grenades and AK-47s, zoomed up in a car and leaped over a fence. At first they were mistaken for policemen.

Jitu Shah, a 26-year-old tour guide, had just seen off a group of tourists at the main gate.

As he walked back, he was stunned by the explosion and the sight of a man with a submachine gun.

"He was in his early 20s, was wearing a pair of black trousers and an olive green shirt," Shah said. "He suddenly started firing."

One bullet hit Shah's left leg. He fell to the ground, writhing in pain, and crawled to a nearby bush. He said he saw another man, firing from another direction, before he passed out.

Another witness, Rajubhai Sardar, a 31-year-old cloth merchant, said: "They had grenades in their pockets and in their hands. Each of them was armed with one big gun. They threw the grenade at us, and we were all injured when the grenade exploded."

Sardar grabbed his injured 5-year-old daughter when he saw the two gunmen just in front of him. "One of them pulled my daughter. I fell at his feet and begged him to let her go. The other terrorist then gestured to let my daughter go, and they both left us."

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