Serial blasts rock Assam; at least 60 people killed, 350 injured

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Oct 30 | Updated: Nov 1 2008, 04:47am hrs
Putting the UPA government on the defensive, concerns over national security was pushed to the forefront as terror struck Assam with over a dozen blasts ripping through the capital city of Guwahati as well as three other districts in the state, killing over 60 people and injuring 350 others.

Coming on top of serial explosions in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Agartala, the latest blasts in Assam is expected to sharpen the friction over terrorism in the polity just when assembly elections in five states as well as the Lok Sabha polls are round the corner. Both the Congress and the BJP are currently engaged in hurling accusations at each other on the issue, the latter raising the spectre of jehadi terrorism while the former pointing to linkages of Hindu groups to terror acts in Maharashtra.

In the immediate, it was the Union home ministry that once again faced charges of inept handling of security issues by the opposition BJP. Responding quickly, union home secretary Madhukar Gupta said this evening that hands of northeast militant groups with external linkages were suspected-- an indication to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which seeks to establish an independent Assam through armed struggle and which has been aided and abetted by the ISI. The Bangladesh based Harkat-ul Jehad-e-Islami (HUJI) too came under the scanner of intelligence agencies, who did not rule out their involvement in the blasts.The banned ULFA however, denied any role in the blasts through an emailed statement this evening.

A high level team from the home ministry is expected to visit Guwahati on Friday. As a consequence of the blasts, the Centre has decided not to pull out paramilitary forces from the state for election duty in five poll bound states.

Reports from Guwahati said that bombs went off simultaneously at around 11.30 AM near the high-security capital complex housing the Assembly building, as well as commercial areas of Paltan Bazar and Fancy Bazar. Blasts also occured at around the same time in other crowded markets in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta districts in lower Assam, where casualties were high.

Political parties responded sharply to the blasts, calling it a failure of intelligence agencies, the state government and the Centre. I believe that these blasts are symbolic of the sense of insecurity in the country. This also proves the total failure of the government in combating terrorism, BJP prime ministerial candidate LK Advani he told reporters here. Advani said it is likely that illegal Bangladeshi migrants from Assam, which has seen an increasing influx of these people in recent years, could be involved in the blasts.

The CPIM, on the other hand, said: Thursdays blasts are due to intelligence failure. We have been demanding a debate in the Parliament on the issue of terrorism and how to improve the intelligence system in the country. But the government is avoiding such a debate, senior CPI-M leader Brinda Karat said here.