- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

12:25 p.m.

HYDERABAD, India — A bomb ripped through a historic mosque as Friday prayers were ending in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, killing at least seven persons and wounding nearly three dozen, officials said. Two other unexploded bombs were found and defused by police.

Minutes after the blast, Muslims angered by what they said was a lack of police protection began chanting slogans and quickly turned into mobs throwing stones at police, who responded with baton charges and tear gas.

The bombing and ensuing clash between worshippers and police raised fears of wider Hindu-Muslim violence in the city, which has long been plagued by communal tensions and occasional spasms of religious bloodletting.

Many of the 35 persons injured in the explosion at the 17th-century Mecca Masjid were severely wounded, and the city’s police chief, Balwinder Singh, warned the death toll could rise.

Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, where Hyderabad is located, appealed for calm between Hindus and Muslims.

Mr. Reddy told reporters in New Delhi, where he was meeting with federal officials on unrelated business, that one bomb went off around 1:30 p.m. and that police found and defused two other bombs soon after.

About 10,000 people usually attend Friday prayers at the mosque, which is located in a Muslim neighborhood of Hyderabad, and the blast sparked a panic.

There was chaos outside the mosque following the attack. Throngs of people gathered in the streets, some chanting angry slogans and throwing rocks at police, who fired tear gas and tried to disperse the crowd with batons so ambulances could ferry the wounded to hospitals.

The explosion immediately drew comparisons to a Sept. 8 bombing of a mosque during a Muslim festival in Malegaon, a city in western India, that killed 31 persons.

There are an estimated 130 million Muslims in India, a country of 1.1 billion people.

India’s worst religious violence in recent years was in 2002, in the western Gujarat state. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed by Hindu mobs in revenge attacks after a train fire killed 60 Hindus returning from a religious pilgrimage. Muslims were blamed for the train fire.

A series of terrorist bombings have hit India in the past year, including the July bombings of seven Bombay commuter trains that killed more than 200 people. Most of the bombings have been blamed on Muslim militants based in neighboring Pakistan, India’s longtime rival.

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