By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
New Delhi / Hyderabad–It was a black Friday, May 18, for thousands of Muslims gathered at 17th century Mecca mosque in Hyderabad Andhra Pradesh for prayers, when terror struck in the form of a powerful bomb which exploded and killed at least 11, and injured more than 60.
The toll later increased to 16, with five killed in police firing. A crude bomb went off at around 1:20 PM (IST) at the â€œwazu khana,â€ where Muslims perform ablution before reading prayers. Three live bombs were later detected and defused, two soon after the blast at the ablution-area and the third in the evening near the gate. Within minutes, policemen and ambulances reached the spot, with the latter rushing the injured to the hospitals. Enraged by the blasts, Muslims went on a rampage–attacking shops in the area. Five were killed in the firing opened by police to control the protestors.
Condemning the blasts, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh â€œurged members of all communities to maintain peace and communal harmony.â€ The prime minister announced a relief of Rs 100,000 to the next-of-kin of those killed and Rs 50,000 each to the seriously injured from the Prime Ministerâ€™s National Relief Fund. United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi condemned the blasts and asked AP’s chief minister to take immediate steps against those responsible for the incident. Fearing a spread of communal tension, the center sent an advisory to all states to remain alert and maintain communal harmony. Suggesting that the incident was the handiwork of terrorists, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy said that central and state intelligence agencies had indicated nearly two months back that â€œsome elements were trying to disturb the peace and tranquility of the state.â€ Reddy also announced an additional relief fund of Rs 500,000 to families of those killed and Rs 20,000 for the injured.
With two blasts having struck mosques over the past year, one at Malegaon in western India (killing at least 32), the other at Delhiâ€™s Jama Masjid (injuring some), on two Fridays, questions are being raised on why were the authorities lax last Friday at the Mecca Masjid? The earlier incidents made it imperative for authorities to have enhanced security arrangements at mosques particularly on Fridays. However, the security arrangements appear to have been lax, with people allowed inside without any frisking, according to eyewitnesses.
Blaming the police for being lax in security arrangements at the mosque, S.K. Jellani, who lost two family members in the blast, said: â€œThe police failed in providing security and they then deliberately killed people on top of that.â€
Agitated by the blasts and by police gunshots, Muslim protestors observed a daylong strike on Saturday and raised black flags throughout the city. Angry Muslims also pelted police with stones, injuring at least four officers. Suspecting the involvement of Hindu extremists, Asaduddin Owaisi, legislator from Hyderabad, called for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). â€œWe donâ€™t have confidence in the local police to catch the culprits,â€ he said. Protests demanding a CBI probe into police gunshots were held in parts of New Delhi and Hyderabad on Sunday also. Life in Hyderabad began returning to normal by Sunday.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil reached Hyderabad on Saturday, went to the blast-site, and visited those injured people being cared for at Nizamâ€™s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) hospital, accompanied by Reddy and other state ministers.
While addressing the media, Patil emphasized that the center had no difficulty in ordering a CBI inquiry into the incident if the state government wanted. Clarifying that an investigation would be delayed if every case was referred to CBI, Patil said: â€œWe (center) are confident that the Andhra Pradesh government is capable to tackle situations like natural disasters, violent incidents etc. The center, however, will stand by the state government in discharging its duties.â€
Opposition leader, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu also visited the blast site and the injured at hospital. Blaming the state government for having failed to take precautions, Naidu condemned the police firing on protestors. â€œThe police should have acted with restraint but it is very unfortunate that they opened fire without using alternative measures to control the situation,â€ Naidu said. He also announced compensation from TDP to the kin of those killed and each injured one.
Meanwhile, a â€œbreakthroughâ€ in investigations was claimed with recovery of SIM cards from mobile phones attached to unexploded bombs, later defused, official sources said. â€œThe defused bombs were attached to a Nokia mobile and we have begun tracing the person with the help of the SIM card,â€ a source from Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory (APFSL) told a news agency following recovery of the first SIM card. Police suspect Mohammed Abdul Shahed, alias Bilal, the most wanted terrorist in Andhra Pradesh, to have masterminded the blast to create communal tension in Hyderabad. He is said to be working for terrorist groups operating from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Police suspect the hand of the Bangladesh-based terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) behind the blasts. Police claimed to have recovered five SIM cards from the blast site, all of which had been allegedly purchased by Bilal from West Bengal. Of the four mobile phone bombs, three failed to explode because their SIM cards had expired, police sources connected with the investigation said. â€œIf the other three bombs had exploded the toll would have been more than 200. The bombs were timed to explode during the peak prayer time,â€ police source said.
Though the central and state governments have denied any intelligence failure as responsible for the blasts, several questions pointing to the major security lapse at Mecca Masjid are being raised. Central intelligence agencies are questioning as to why the CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras, which would have deterred terrorists and also helped in investigations, had been removed from the area in and out of Mecca Masjid several months ago. Also, they asked why the Rapid Action Force (RAF) had been withdrawn from the mosque area despite warnings from central intelligence agencies that Hyderabad was on a terror hit list? Notwithstanding the â€œbreakthroughsâ€ claimed by investigating officers, the state authorities will have to answer these questions.