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Bombs kill at least 76 in India

The coordinated attack involves 13 blasts in four cities in Assam, a state in the restive northeast.

October 31, 2008|Mian Ridge | Ridge is a special correspondent.

NEW DELHI — A series of bomb blasts ripped through India's northeastern state of Assam on Thursday, killing at least 76 people and injuring hundreds.

At least 13 bombs exploded just before midday in the urban areas of Guwahati, Assam's main city; Bongaigaon; Barpeta and Kokrajhar. Television footage showed firefighters spraying water on burned vehicles as plumes of black smoke rose into the sky and police covered charred bodies with sheets. More than 300 people were injured, some critically.

Most of the explosions occurred in busy marketplaces, timed to strike daytime shoppers, and "were apparently aimed at creating fear and public anger," said Sanjoy Hazarika, an analyst with the Center for North East Studies and Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.

"I had gone to the market to buy vegetables when I heard a deafening sound," S.K. Dutta told the television network Times Now. "There was thick black smoke in the air, and vehicles were burning. It was complete chaos."

Curfew imposed

One bomb in the well-coordinated attack went off a few hundred yards from the offices of Assam's chief minister. A curfew was imposed after angry crowds blamed authorities for arriving late, and the army was put on alert.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. But suspicion fell on the United Liberation Front of Asom, which has waged a violent separatist insurgency in the state for nearly three decades. A spokesman for the group denied responsibility.

Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, another New Delhi think tank, said it was too early to point a finger at any organization. Although the separatist group is an obvious suspect, "there's also the potential for the involvement of Islamic movements with linkages back to Bangladesh," he said.

Assam is one of India's seven isolated northeastern states, which are joined to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor of land and wedged between Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.

Home to 39 million people and 350 ethnic groups, the northeastern states have spawned numerous insurgency groups since India gained independence in 1947. Security forces have failed to rout the rebels, who are able to slip easily across a number of ill-patrolled borders.

Accusations

The northeastern separatists accuse India's government, which is based 900 miles to the west of Guwahati in New Delhi, of sidelining the region's indigenous people while exploiting its natural resources.

At independence, the potential paradise of lush green hills, with a natural bounty of tea and oil, was one of India's wealthiest regions. Today, it is among the nation's poorest.

An unprecedented wave of bomb attacks has hit India this year, killing more than 125 people. Police have blamed most of the assaults on Muslim militants, although some suspected Hindu militants have also been arrested.

The United Liberation Front of Asom is not restive Assam's only rebel organization. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland is also fighting for autonomy for the Bodo ethnic group, which was among the earliest settlers in the Assamese plains.

This month, 53 people were killed when fighting broke out between the Bodo and Muslim settlers.

But Hazarika, the analyst, said it was unlikely that members of the Bodoland group were behind the bombings Thursday. "They don't have the capacity," he said.

At least two people were killed and 100 injured in four bomb blasts this month in Assam that police blamed on Muslim militant groups based in Bangladesh.

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