HYDERABAD, India, (Reuters) – A bomb exploded during Friday prayers at a historic mosque in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, killing at least five people, police said.
Another 35 people were injured at Mecca Masjid, the main mosque in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state.
Police said the death toll could rise and two other bombs were defused in the area.
Hundreds of men and boys in white prayer caps rushed out of the mosque following the explosion, local television showed.
Men in blood-soaked long white shirts were seen rushing through the crowds and getting into an ambulance.
After the blast, angry crowds fought pitched battles with police around the mosque, pelting stones and shouting “Allah is great!” Police fired tear gas and opened fire in the air. Some people hurled stones at shops and vehicles.
Friday’s attack was the third major bombing of a mosque in India over the last year. Each attack has sparked fears among authorities that communal unrest could be triggered between minority Muslims and majority Hindus.
Around 140 million people of India’s billion-plus population are Muslims. Hindus make up more than 80 percent of the population.
Hyderabad, one of India’s most important IT hubs, has a large Muslim population and several historic mosques. “On Friday, at least 7 to 8,000 people perform the namaz (prayers) over there and the fatalities would have been much higher if the bomb took place five-six minutes before,” Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi told local television.
A bomb blast killed 32 people last year at a mosque in the western state of Maharashtra, an attack which police blamed on a banned Islamic students group trying to spark communal tension.
Last year, two bomb explosions at New Delhi’s main mosque, Jama Masjid, wounded 10 people.