India’s deadliest bombing in almost two years killed 16 people in Hyderabad, revealing the country’s vulnerability to attack and posing the latest test for a home minister already under fire for his handling of terrorism.
The twin devices attached to bicycles which exploded during the evening rush hour yesterday in the southern city also wounded 117 people. Two other bombs were found nearby and defused, police said. The Indian government said it had received intelligence that militants were planning an attack somewhere and had passed the information to police forces nationwide 48 hours before the explosions. It didn’t specify a target. Opposition parties accused the government of failing to act on the warning.
India has suffered nine terrorist attacks since November 2008 when the government pledged to improve policing and intelligence gathering after Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people during a three-day siege of the country’s financial capital, Mumbai. Hyderabad, India’s sixth-largest city, is home to offices of Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
“In the absence of specific intelligence inputs” India remains unable to check militant groups, said N. Manoharan, an analyst at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based policy research group. “Local police are not trained or equipped well enough to meet this kind of threat.”
Opposition from India’s states stalled progress in setting up a national counter-terrorism agency last year, as regional leaders said it would usurp the powers of police under their command. Then Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram proposed the new unit after visiting the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center in the wake of the attack on Mumbai.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the bombings as a “dastardly attack” in a statement issued yesterday. Singh appealed to people to remain calm and vowed that “the guilty will not go unpunished.”
The blasts were the worst in India since July 2011, when 25 people were killed in Mumbai as three bombs ripped through the city.
The first explosion yesterday occurred at 7 p.m. One of the bombs exploded at a bus stop and another near a movie theater. Television channels including the CNN-IBN network broadcast pictures of smashed shop fronts, blood-splattered streets and police attempting to protect the blast sites. Officials had earlier said there were three devices.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters it was too early to say who might be responsible. While intelligence agencies had warned there may be an attack, there was no information that Hyderabad would be targeted, he said. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Shinde Feb. 20 issued a statement expressing regret over comments he had made linking Hindu groups and terrorism. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party had said it would protest his statements in parliament, possibly disrupting the budget session that began yesterday. Shinde said his remarks had been misinterpreted.
Hyderabad was bombed twice in 2007, with more than 50 people killed. While police initially blamed Muslim militants for both attacks, at least one -- at the city’s most prominent mosque, the Mecca Masjid -- has since been linked to far-right Hindu fundamentalist groups by security agencies.
The attacks yesterday in Hyderabad have the hallmarks of the Islamic militant group Indian Mujahideen, Manoharan said. The group emerged in 2008 when it claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in major cities, including New Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad.
“This kind of communally sensitive place, the use of detonators and timers, the pattern of the bombings and the fact that bombs were placed on cycles point the finger toward Indian Mujahideen,” Manoharan said.
While the militant group may get support from guerrilla movements in Pakistan, it is an Indian network comprising men who were radicalized by anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002, according to a study by a government-backed research body in New Delhi, the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.
Under interrogation by Delhi police, four alleged members of Indian Mujahideen gave details of a 2012 operation to scout for targets in the Dilkhush Nagar neighborhood of Hyderabad where yesterday’s bombings took place, according to a police press release issued Oct. 26.
The explosions yesterday triggered a high alert across Andhra Pradesh and in other areas of the country, including Mumbai.
Hyderabad, with a population of nearly 7 million people, is the capital of Andhra Pradesh and has emerged as one of the country’s key economic hubs for the pharmaceutical and technology industries. Yet beneath the modern exterior is a city that has long been a crucible for Hindu-Muslim violence.
Politics in Hyderabad have also been roiled in the last two years by resurgent demands for the creation of a new state to be carved from northern districts of Andhra Pradesh. While the statehood movement has sparked violent clashes with police it has largely been pursued through political protest and is far removed from the separatist struggles for independence in the country’s northeast or Kashmir.
Since coming to power in 2004, Singh’s Congress party-led government has been criticized by opposition parties for failing to detect attacks and protect citizens. Congress faces a general election in just over a year.
In August last year, four explosions occurred in less than an hour in the western city of Pune, injuring one person. In September 2011, a bomb hidden in a briefcase exploded outside the Delhi High Court, killing 13 and injuring 80 people.
Chidambaram, who took over as India’s top internal security official after the 2008 attack on Mumbai and is now finance minister, said in 2011 the country’s states employed an extra 90,000 police officers following the siege. Still, 600,000 vacancies remained, he said, positions that would not be filled for another seven years at the current rate of recruitment.
India is short of police, deploying an officer for every 1,037 residents, compared with a global average of one per 333 citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a 2009 report. Ill-trained officers typically are on call 24 hours.
Australia’s cricket team is in India for a four-Test series that begins today in Chennai, with the second match to be played in Hyderabad starting on March 2.
“We’re aware of the tragic incident in Hyderabad,” Philip Pope, senior public affairs manager for Cricket Australia, said in a statement. “The safety of the squad is of paramount importance” and the Australian team is liaising with the Indian cricket officials, local authorities and the Australian High Commission.
“To date, we have no information to suggest there is any threat to the team in Chennai as a result of this incident,” Pope said in the statement.