Indian authorities are deploying troops in Gujarat to prevent retaliatory violence following a raid on a Hindu temple by unidentified gunmen that killed at least 30 people and wounded more than 70 others. The bloody siege of the temple ended early Wednesday with a security operation in which two gunmen, one Indian commando and two policemen were killed. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has appealed to the nation to maintain communal harmony.
About 70 elite commandoes stormed the sprawling Akshardham Temple in Gujarat's capital, Gandhinagar, at daybreak, more than 12 hours after two gunmen raided the temple. Dozens of worshippers trapped in the complex were evacuated.
Witnesses say the heavily armed assailants jumped a fence Tuesday evening to enter the temple complex, then sprayed gunfire at the worshippers who were inside. Scores of people taking part in evening prayers were killed or wounded. Many fled. Others locked themselves into rooms. Several women and children were among the victims.
Brigadier Raj Sitapathi who led the security operation, says the standoff with the two gunmen carried on through the night, as they returned fire and lobbed grenades at soldiers surrounding the temple. "They were getting desperate because they knew they were hemmed in and they could not get out, so they started firing very indiscriminately all over the place, and throwing grenades," he said.
Officials say the gunmen were in their early 20s. They say letters found in their pockets indicate they belonged to a previously unknown group called the "Movement for Revenge." The letters were written in Urdu, the language of many South Asian Muslims.
Authorities are sending about 3,000 soldiers to Gujarat amid fears that the attack on the temple could raise communal tensions in the state. Just months ago, Gujarat was swept by India's worst religious violence in a decade, when hundreds of Muslims were killed in bloody Hindu-Muslim riots. Security has been tightened through the country.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapayee cut short a tour to the Maldives to visit the scene of the attack. He said the raid was part of a "well-designed plot." Mr. Vajpayee appealed to all communities to remain united and defeat terrorism.
Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani called the raid an attack on India's democracy. "It's a continuing battle, continuing war, which we have to wage against terror," he said.
Mr. Advani indirectly blamed Pakistan for the attack, saying "enemies of the country" were behind the terrorism. In Islamabad, Pakistani officials dismissed the allegations, calling them ridiculous.
Mr. Advani said recent references made by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat led him to believe the attack had been planned for some time. Mr. Advani also said the temple violence maybe linked to ongoing state elections in Kashmir state, which Muslim militant groups have vowed to disrupt.
Hardline Hindu groups have called for a nationwide strike on Thursday to protest the attack on the temple.
The United States, Britain and Pakistan have condemned the terrorist violence.