- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

GANDHINAGAR, India India deployed thousands of troops to prevent an eruption of Hindu-Muslim rioting yesterday after two gunmen attacked a major Hindu temple complex, killing 30 persons, most of them worshippers.

India blamed rival Pakistan for the assault, which lasted 14 hours until Indian commandos stormed the temple at dawn yesterday and killed the gunmen. Pakistan denied the accusation, increasing tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

In the western state of Gujarat, where the temple is located, fears were high that the raid would spark sectarian bloodshed similar to what tore the state apart earlier this year. At least 1,000 people were killed in the state, most of them Muslims slain by Hindu mobs, in riots after a Muslim attack on Hindu train passengers in February.

After visiting the temple, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called for an end to the cycle of violence. "First there is a violent incident in one place, then there is mindless revenge," he said. "We need to end this. The spirit of amity should also prevail in Gujarat."

The Indian army sent 3,000 soldiers to Gujarat yesterday at the behest of the state government, which had been criticized for not acting quickly to quell the earlier rioting. Schools, colleges and most businesses were shut in Gandhinagar and the adjoining commercial capital, Ahmedabad, amid an opposition strike.

The attack on the Swaminarayan temple on the outskirts of Gandhinagar, the state capital, began Tuesday evening, when the gunmen zoomed up in a car and burst into the complex.

As hundreds of people fled, troops swarmed into the sprawling complex, which centers on a 108-foot-high monument built of pink sandstone. The gunmen eluded the soldiers for nearly 14 hours, said Brig. Raj Sitapathy, head of the commando force that led the final assault.

The attack left 27 worshippers and temple workers, as well as two police officers, a commando and the two attackers, dead. Seventy-four persons were injured, including at least 23 police officers, officials said.

After the siege ended, 65 pilgrims were rescued from one of the rooms, Brig. Sitapathy said.

No group took responsibility for the attack, and the gunmen were not identified.

But Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani blamed Pakistan, referring to a Sept. 12 speech by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to the United Nations, when he condemned the killings of Muslims in Gujarat.

In Islamabad, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan, who condemned the attack, called the accusation "ridiculous."

Brig. Sitapathy said two letters written in the Urdu language were recovered from the attackers and bore the previously unknown name "Movement for Taking Revenge."

"They were clean-shaven, dressed in civilian clothes and appeared to be in their early 20s," Brig. Sitapathy said. They carried dates and candy, probably as energy boosters, and had grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and loads of ammunition, he said.

The gunmen's attire, behavior, cache of food and approach to the temple in an Ambassador car, used by Indian officials, bore similarities to those of a group that attacked India's Parliament on Dec. 13.

India accused Pakistan of plotting the Parliament attack. It led to talk of war and mobilization of 1 million troops, who remain on the countries' border.

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