May 20, 2007

Blast toll 16, Hyderabad tense but under control


19 May, 2007 l 1929 hrs ISTl  IANS
 


HYDERABAD: (IANS) The situation remained tense in parts of Hyderabad on Saturday, a day after a blast ripped through a 400-year-old mosque claiming 16 lives, including five in police firing to quell violence, as parts of Andhra Pradesh saw sporadic violence and protests against the terror attack.

Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy said that 11 people were killed in the mosque blast, while five died in police firing. He said the situation was under control.

Though police suspect the involvement of Bangladesh-based terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) in the blast, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who visited the blast site along with the chief minister, said it would not be proper to jump to conclusions before investigations were completed.

Asked if he suspected the involvement of foreign terror groups in the blast, Patil said: "We should not jump to conclusions. Premature disclosure of information does not help in investigations. Supposing if our conclusions are wrong it does not help us in the longer run."

Patil, who also called on the injured at a hospital, admitted that information had been available to the centre and state governments about terrorists planning the strikes.

"What was not available was the time and place they will strike. They choose a time and a place where they can easily carry out their plans," he said.

Asked whether the same forces were responsible for the blasts in Muslim-majority Malegaon town of Maharashtra last year and in Hyderabad, he evaded a direct reply. "The Malegaon blasts are being examined and this blast will also be investigated into."

Patil said the government was trying to evolve a method to provide better security to places of worship as terrorists were targeting them to create bad blood among different communities.

In the evening, Patil left for Tirupati, about 560 km from here, to review security arrangements at the famous Lord Venkateshwara temple there.

Police sources said that the intricate design of the improvised explosive device, sophisticated technology and the explosives used in the blast at the mosque point towards involvement of terrorist groups. A deadly mixture of RDX and TNT is believed to have been used in the blast, which was triggered with the help of a cellular phone.

While police suspect the blast to be the handiwork of HUJI, they do not rule out involvement of Pakistan-based terror groups Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

As Reddy visited the mosque along with Patil, he was heckled by angry relatives of the victims of police firing, forcing him to apologise for the police action.

Reddy, however, justified the police action later in the day. "Had the police not acted, the situation would have gone out of control," he said after an emergency cabinet meeting that passed a resolution condemning the blast.

While he told the protestors at the blast site that he was ready for a CBI probe into the attack and police firing, at a joint news conference with Patil he said a CBI inquiry could be ordered only after preliminary investigations.

"We have no objection to ordering a CBI or judicial probe or both but the union home minister suggested to us to go into the entirety of the situation before recommending a CBI probe," he said.

Meanwhile, sporadic incidents of violence were reported from different parts of Andhra Pradesh during demonstrations to protest the blast.

A shutdown was observed on a call given by the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), a political party with a large Muslim following, and protest rallies were carried out in several towns.

While a complete shutdown was observed in the old city parts of Hyderabad and in parts of other cities, the response was mixed in its twin city Secunderabad. The shutdown had no impact on Cyberabad, which houses IT companies and institutes of excellence.

Mild tension prevailed in Magalpura area near the Mecca Masjid, as four policemen were injured when a mob threw stones at a police party.

Hundreds of policemen and paramilitary personnel were deployed in sensitive areas of the old city.

The bodies of 14 victims of the blast and police firing were handed over to their relatives while one body remained unclaimed.

Friday's blast occurred at the 17th century mosque, a stone's throw away from Charminar, the symbol of Hyderabad and the heart of the old city. The area is surrounded by centuries-old markets famous for bangles, bridal wear and pearls. The mosque is also surrounded by impressive and historic structures and palaces of Muslim rulers of erstwhile Hyderabad State.

About 50 percent of the city's four million population live in the old city, founded four centuries ago. Muslims, who constitute 40 percent of the city's total population, are an overwhelming majority in the old city.

The area is notorious for poor civic amenities and traffic congestion when compared to other parts of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

Though the old city witnessed worst communal riots in the 1970s and 1980s, no major violence was reported since 1990, when large-scale riots had claimed over 200 lives.

The chief minister said the Prime Minister's Office had announced compensation of Rs.100,000 each to the kin of those killed. This is in addition to Rs.500,000 each compensation announced by the state government on Friday.

He said 56 people were injured in the blast and in police firing and had announced Rs.20,000 compensation to each of those injured on Friday.

The (MIM), an ally of the ruling Congress, demanded action against the policemen responsible for firing on the protestors after the blast.

"The police firing was a double tragedy for Hyderabad. Even before Muslims could recover from the shock of the devastating blast during Friday prayers police killed innocent youths by firing indiscriminately," said MIM leader and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.

N Chandrababu Naidu, president of the main opposition Telugu Desam Party and former chief minister, alleged the state government failed to take precautions despite a warning from the union home ministry and central intelligence agencies.

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