- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

MALEGAON, India — Two bombs rigged to bicycles exploded in throngs of Muslims as they left Friday prayers at a mosque in this western Indian city, killing 31 persons and wounding 100.

A top official called the blasts “a terrorist act,” and authorities — fearing revenge attacks across the country’s fragile religious divides — clamped a curfew on Malegaon and put security forces on alert.

Late yesterday, the city’s streets were empty, with thousands of police on patrol and checkpoints set up around the perimeter.

Malegaon, a center of India’s textile industry about 180 miles northeast of Bombay, has long been the scene of violence between Hindus and Muslims. About 75 percent of its 500,000 people are Muslim. Riots between Hindus and Muslims in 2001 left 15 persons dead.

While it was not clear who was behind the bombings, which happened near one of the city’s main mosques on a Muslim festival day, officials aggressively deployed teams of police to sensitive parts of the state.

“Law and order is under control,” said P.S. Pasricha, director-general of police of Maharashtra state, where Malegaon is located. “There’s a high alert across the state. We have activated all police machinery to ensure that communal harmony is maintained.”

The bombings were intended to set off wider violence, officials said.

“It is a terrorist act. It is done by people who don’t want peace,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told reporters in Bombay, the state capital. Of the 100 persons wounded, he said, 56 were seriously hurt.

Both bombs were rigged to bicycles, Mr. Deshmukh said. “We found packets with the explosives attached to these bicycles.”

The explosions came as Muslims celebrated the festival of Shabe Barat, or the Night of Fortune, when they hold nightlong prayers seeking divine blessings, exchange sweets with neighbors and relatives, and set off fireworks.

At least some of those killed were beggars who came to the mosque because worshippers are known for their generosity on festival days, said Raees Rizvi, a Malegaon social worker.

India has suffered a series of terrorist bombings over the past year. Carefully planned attacks on Bombay’s commuter trains in July left more than 200 people dead. Those bombings were blamed on Pakistan-based Muslim militants.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that India may be facing even bloodier attacks.

“Reports also suggest that terrorist modules and ‘sleeper cells’ exist in some of our urban areas, all of which highlight the seriousness of the threat,” Mr. Singh told India’s state chief ministers during a conference on internal security.

The U.S. Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, deplored yesterday’s attack. “There can be no justification for such heinous acts. The United States stands with India in its fight against terrorism,” he said.

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