Damaged two-wheelers lie near the site of a bomb blast in Hyderabad, India. (Mahesh Kumar A. / Associated…)
NEW DELHI — At least 11 people were killed and 75 wounded when twin blasts struck a busy bus terminal, market and theater district Thursday in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.
Given the intensity of the explosives, which according to early reports were hidden in a large “tiffin” lunch box and on the back of a parked bicycle, and the head injuries suffered by several people, authorities said they expected the death toll to rise. Local television network NDTV said a third device was found unexploded, a report that was not immediately confirmed.
The first blast took place about 7 p.m. near a crowded theater, killing at least eight people, according to Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. The second took place less than 10 minutes later near a second theater about 400 feet away, killing at least three.
The explosions in Hyderabad’s Dilsukh Nagar district prompted a near-stampede, local media reported, as people scattered in panic. Shinde said the Home Ministry had received intelligence in the previous 48 hours of a possible attack but didn’t know its location.
All major Indian cities, including New Delhi and Mumbai, were put on high alert and a team of commandos was dispatched from the capital. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the explosions as a “dastardly attack” and vowed to punish those responsible even as he appealed for calm.
The prime minister said the government would pay $3,700 to each victim’s family and about $900 to anyone who was seriously wounded.
Local TV footage showed a man, his clothes shredded, lying dead in a pool of blood near shattered windows, an overturned red suitcase and torn movie billboards as police combed the area. Another scene from a nearby hospital showed relatives crying near an injured victim.
Although no group immediately claimed responsibility, local media and several security analysts said the attack bore the hallmarks of the Indian Mujahedin, an extremist group on the Indian and U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The group, whose stated aim is to create an Islamic state across South Asia, has carried out several attacks on civilians.
A possible motive, analysts said, could be retaliation for the controversial execution on Feb. 9 of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim convicted of providing logistical support in a deadly 2001 attack on parliament. The hanging took place in secret, and many have questioned whether he received a fair trial.
“Any intelligent person would link this to the hanging of Afzal Guru,” former Central Bureau of Investigation director R.K. Raghavan, India’s equivalent of the FBI, told the Headlines Today television network. “Indian Mujahedin is a definite suspect.”
But Dipankar Banerjee, director of New Delhi’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a think tank, said it’s too early to jump to conclusions. While Indian Mujahedin is a suspect, Hyderabad is also at the center of a movement to carve out a new state known as Telangana.
“Has that movement turned to violence, which it hasn’t done in the past?” he said. “It’s really difficult to say who’s behind this and what their motives are at this point.”
Bicycles and motorcycles are commonly used to stage attacks in South Asia, analysts said, because they’re omnipresent, don’t raise suspicion and provide an easy way to transport significant amounts of explosives.
The attack may generate false claims of responsibility, Banerjee said. Not only is this an easy way to get publicity, it also can boost a group’s credentials in terrorist circles and help in recruiting, even if the claim is later discounted, he said.
Hyderabad, the capital of in southern Andhra Pradesh state, has a history of extremism. In May 2007, a pipe bomb triggered by a cellphone in a mosque killed 14 people. Three months later, two bombs exploded in quick succession, one in an amusement park and the other in a nearby restaurant, killing 42 people.
The following day, police found 19 unexploded devices around Hyderabad, most outfitted with timers and encased in plastic bags, hidden at bus stops and near cinemas, intersections and pedestrian bridges.
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Tanvi Sharma in The Times’ New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.