Friday, October 31, 2008

Sophisticated attack leaves 77 dead in India

GAUHATI, India (AP) - The level of sophistication in the bombings that killed at least 77 people in northeastern India indicates that local militants had help from other terrorist groups in carrying out the attacks, officials said Friday.

The scale and planning behind Thursday's 13 coordinated blasts in Assam state surprised authorities, who struggled to determine who was behind the attacks - among the worst ever in a region plagued by separatism and ethnic violence.

The death toll in the explosions rose to 77 on Friday after more than a dozen people died from their injuries overnight, said Subhas Das, the state's home commissioner. More than 300 people were wounded.

Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, the Assam state inspector general of police, said the state's largest separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom, or ULFA, was the main target of the investigation, but added that the sophistication of the blasts suggested the rebel group was "assisted by a force who has adequate expertise in such attacks." He did not elaborate.

Anjan Borehaur, an ULFA spokesman, denied his group had any role in the blasts.

"We are not behind these blasts in any way and it is the work of the Indian occupation forces," he said in an Assamese language e-mail sent to reporters.

ULFA is one of the largest and most feared of several dozen militant groups active in the region, having launched dozens of attacks since it took up arms in 1979.

Most of the groups want independent homelands in India's northeast, an isolated region wedged between Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar with only a thin corridor connecting it to the rest of India.

ULFA says Assam and the rest of the northeast - whose inhabitants are ethnically closer to Burma and China - were never traditionally part of India and that the federal government has been exploiting the area's natural resources while doing little for the indigenous people.

The region has also seen repeated violence between indigenous tribes and migrants to the area from other parts of India. Last year, militants massacred about 70 migrant workers from northern India, and in October more than 50 people were killed in violence between members of the Bodo tribe and migrants, most of whom were Muslims.

But the separatist group has never carried out an attack of this size and complexity, which closely resembled bombings that have rocked other Indian cities this year. Those attacks were blamed on well-financed and well-armed Islamic militant groups.

Officials have refused to identify any suspected groups. However, Indian media reports quoted unidentified senior police officers as saying they were looking at possible links to the Harkat-e-Jehad-e Islami militant group, based in nearby Bangladesh.

India has frequently accused the group of involvement in attacks but offered little proof.

A local television station, News Live, said it received a text message from a previously unknown group claiming responsibility.

The group, calling itself the Islamic Security Force (Indian Mujahadeen), also warned of future attacks, News Live said.

The name echoes that of the Indian Mujahadeen, a group unknown until May when it said it was behind bombings in the western city of Jaipur which killed 61 people. It also claimed responsibility for blasts in the western state of Gujarat in July which killed at least 45 and blasts in New Delhi in September that killed 21.

A senior police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was in progress, said police were unaware of the group and were trying to track down the phone from which the message was sent.

Federal investigators and forensic experts sifted through the rubble of the blasts Friday for clues.

Mahanta said a preliminary investigation indicated the militants had used PE-3, a complex plastic explosive.

On Friday, police fired rubber bullets to disperse angry mobs who took to the streets of the state capital, Gauhati, stoning and attacking vehicles and buildings, said C.K. Bhuyan, a local magistrate. He said no one was injured by the rubber bullets.

Similar incidents took place Thursday.

A curfew was imposed in parts of the city on Friday, Bhuyan said.

The bombs were planted in cars and rickshaws, and the largest explosion occurred near the office of Assam's top government official, leaving bodies and charred, mangled cars and motorcycles strewn across the road.



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