HYDERABAD, India (AFP) – Indian security forces launched a manhunt Sunday for those behind twin bombings in the southern city of Hyderabad that killed 42 people, with officials pinning the blame on Islamic militants.
More than 50 others were injured in the blasts late Saturday, which ripped through a packed street restaurant in this mixed Hindu-Muslim city and an outdoor amusement park auditorium where hundreds were watching a sound and light show.
Federal authorities deployed paramilitary forces to the city, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, to ensure ethnic tensions did not flare up following the near-simultaneous attacks, for which no one has yet claimed responsibility.
“The death toll now is 42. More than 50 people are being treated in various hospitals,” the state’s home minister K. Jana Reddy told reporters.
“The victims are from all sections of society — they included Hindus and Muslims,” chief minister Y.S. Rajshekhar Reddy said.
More than a dozen of the wounded were in serious condition.
“One terrorist group or the other, which is bent on destroying the unity of the country, is certainly involved,” said Sriprakash Jaiswal, India’s minister of state for home.
Reddy said “available information” pointed to the involvement of terrorist organisations based in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The chief minister hinted that suspects behind the blasts were linked to a deadly bombing three months ago at the city’s 17th-century Mecca Mosque.
Eleven people were killed in the attack. Noone has claimed responsibility, although several people have been detained over their alleged role.
“Maybe same organisations or sister organisations” are involved, Reddy told CNN-IBN television. “There is some definite link.”
He condemned the blasts as the “cruellest acts against humanity” and appealed for calm in the city, where about 40 percent of the 6.5 million people are Muslim.
“We have launched a manhunt for those who committed this dastardly crime,” Hyderabad police chief Balwinder Singh said.
Security was beefed up here Sunday, as some 10,000 Hindu weddings were planned on what is seen as an auspicious day, police said. Police had located another bomb in a cinema on Saturday and defused it before it exploded.
Forensic experts were also dispatched to aid local efforts to trace the culprits. Federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil was due to visit Hyderabad later Sunday.
On Saturday, rescue workers carried out bodies burnt beyond recognition at the popular eatery. At the auditorium, severed arms and legs lay scattered around.
“I saw limbs flying around me and blood splattering,” 29-year-old Romanna, who goes by one name, told AFP as she waited for help for a chest wound outside the amusement park.
There was chaos at the city’s main Osmania hospital as wailing relatives thronged the hallways, searching for their missing loved ones.
After an emergency cabinet meeting, Reddy announced compensation of 500,000 rupees (12,200 dollars) for families of those killed.
India has suffered a series of recent blasts that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants seeking to upset a peace process between India and Pakistan and stir Hindu-Muslim violence.
“We’re seeing a pattern of attacks every two to three months somewhere or other in the country on soft targets,” said Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.
In the deadliest, seven blasts on the rail network in the country’s financial hub Mumbai killed 186 people in July 2006.
Indian authorities say they believe Pakistan-based guerrilla groups fighting its rule in Indian Kashmir are using Indian Muslim militants to stage attacks.
The attacks “appear to be linked to what we call Pakistan-backed Islamic terrorist groups,” said analyst Sahni. Pakistan, which has fought two wars over Kashmir with India, routinely denies any involvement in attacks on Indian soil.