By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW – Within hours of Uttar Pradesh (UP) being rocked by multiple blasts, last Friday (November 23), allegations and counter-allegations started being levying in political circles on who was to be blamed for these explosions. Three towns in UP, Faizabad, Lucknow and Varanasi were struck by near-simultaneous blasts at around 1 PM (IST), killing at least 14 people and injuring over 60. The same day, Home Minister Shivraj Patil informed the Lok Sabha that following the blasts a high alert had been sounded across the country. There was no information about involvement of any group in the blasts, Patil said. He made the statement in response to demand made by leader of opposition, L.K. Advani (Bharatiya Janata Party). â€œIt looks as if anti-national groups are widening their activities. We found more bombs after the explosions,â€ Patil said.
â€œPrima facie it shows intelligence failure. This was not an isolated case of a blast going off in a market or a bus station. These blasts have been prepared over a period of time,â€ Advani said.
The Home Ministry sent forensic teams belonging to National Security Guards to the blast sites and also issued advisories to states to step up vigilance.
The blasts had apparently been targeted at the legal community. The bombs exploded almost simultaneously in the court premises of the three cities. In Lucknow, the bomb was in a sweet box on a cycle was planted at the Civil Court gate in front of electricity office. In Varanasi and Faizabad, the bombs were placed closed to tin sheds housing lawyersâ€™ chambers, the police said. The bombs were either of low intensity or were high intensity bombs that did not explode with full intensity. â€œThe cycles on which the bombs were placed were not blown away. They were only partially damaged, thereby reducing the damage. The Lucknow blast was of low intensity,â€ a police officer said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts and announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 100,000 for next of kin of deceased and Rs 50,000 for seriously injured from the Prime Ministerâ€™s National Relief Fund. Expressing shock over serial blasts, Congress President Sonia Gandhi urged the government to take action to find culprits and deal with them sternly. â€œThis dastardly act is cowardice and is also intended to create panic,â€ she said.
Condemning the blasts, minister of state for home, Sriprakash Jaiswal said: â€œOne thing is clear that this is a conspiracy. Not sure which organization (is responsible for blasts), the motive is to disturb communal harmony. I appeal to people to remain united.â€
UP Chief Minister Mayawati directed the police to ensure maintenance of law and order, and get to the bottom of the case soon. Blaming central intelligence agencies for failing to provide any inputs about the blasts, Mayawati said that state agencies were not even asked to stay â€œalert.â€ Condemning the blasts, she described as pre-planned, she said the state agencies were out in full-force to avert any other mishaps. She also announced ex-gratia of Rs 200,000 to the kin of deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured, which was later increased to Rs 500,000 and Rs 100,000 respectively.
UP had been alerted about possibility of terrorist attacks at public places, Jaiswal said a day after the blasts. The central intelligence agencies had regularly provided information about terrorist activities to UP administration, he said.
Blaming the state governmentâ€™s â€œlaxâ€ approach towards security for blasts, Samajwadi Party leader and former Chief Minister of UP, Mulayam Singh Yadav said: â€œThe responsibility of the blast lies completely on the state government. They said it is the failure of the center, but it is a lie. This is not political issue, but the issue of the countryâ€™s safety, and it is state government and its officials to be blamed for that.â€ Yadav made these comments after he visited the blast site at Lucknow.
Though the UP police had released sketches of four suspects, prepared on basis of eyewitnessesâ€™ accounts, at the time this piece was filed, they lacked concrete details on who was responsible for the blasts.
Within minutes of the first blast in Varanasi, various television channels had received an e-mail warning them of the attack. Delhi Police traced this e-mail to a cyber cafe in East Delhi. The e-mail was sent from an account, which was created on November 22. While creating the account, the sender of the e-mail did not mention his name and address, the police said. The next day, television channels received an e-mail threatening the visiting Pakistani cricket team. The message from firstname.lastname@example.org asked the Pakistani team to withdraw from Test series. The e-mail also threatened blasts in various places in Chennai, Ghaziabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Islamabad.
Ruling out involvement of any local group in the UP blasts, sources said: â€œAll blasts were similar in nature… the possible use of ammonium nitrate to trigger the blast and use of electronic timer devices only proves that an old hand was involved.â€ The Bangladesh based banned organization Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islamia or HUJI was suspected to be behind the blasts.
With the Fridayâ€™s attack targeting court premises in the three towns, the blasts may have been militantsâ€™ retaliatory strikes. There is a view that lawyers were targeted because they had refused to defend the accused in several cases of terrorist violence. Besides, lawyers had an altercation with the three Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militants when they were being produced before a court in Lucknow (November 17). The three were charged for planning to target Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the preceding week.
Irrespective of who is to be blamed for security lapse, the only thing that is clear is that terrorists are held responsible for the serial blasts. As expressed by a senior UP police officer, Brij Lal: â€œWe are convinced that it was an act of terrorists, however, we have yet to get concrete leads about the outfit involved in carrying out the mission, which was really well planned.â€