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India on Alert After Bombing in Holy City


Indian police officers stand guard near the site of Tuesday's blast on the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi, India, 08 Dec 2010

Indian police officers stand guard near the site of Tuesday's blast on the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi, India, 08 Dec 2010

Indian authorities have appealed for calm and sounded a nationwide alert following a bomb attack in the Hindu holy city, Varanasi, which killed a child and injured 37 other people, including foreign tourists. An Indian Islamist group has claimed responsibility for the bomb - the second in an Indian city this year.

Security was tightened because of the havoc caused by a bomb blast the previous evening, as hundreds of devotees gathered for prayers in Varanasi.

The bomb, hidden in a metal canister, had exploded close to a group offering ritual evening prayers along the Ganges River, Tuesday. A two-year-old girl died in her mother's lap and dozens were injured in a stampede that ensued in the wake of the explosion. Seven foreigners were among the wounded. Varanasi, in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, is a popular tourist destination.

Fearing more attacks, authorities put police on high alert, across the country.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram visited Varanasi Wednesday to meet victims of the terror strike. He is appealing for calm. He said the scene of the bomb blast was identified as a militant target, earlier this year.

" I think there is a lesson for the police, there is no question of relaxing the vigil," he said.

Police have questioned several people in connection with an e-mail, in which a local Islamist group called the Indian Mujaheddin claimed responsibility for the explosion. Police say the e-mail was sent to local media from Mumbai.

In the message, the group says it carried out the bomb blast in retaliation for a recent court ruling which divided a religious site at Ayodhya claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. The blast took place a day after the anniversary of the 1992 demolition of the mosque which stood there.

Authorities in India say the Indian Mujaheddin has been trained by terror groups in Pakistan, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which New Delhi blames for many of the terror strikes in Indian cities in recent years.

The 2008 attacks in Mumbai were the most audacious and prompted a massive revamp of security in the country.

Home Minister Chidambaram says 2009 were free of any terror strikes, but the country has witnessed two incidents this year. In February, 17 people were killed in western Pune city.

"I was hoping and praying the year would come to an end without another incident, but unfortunately we have had this incident," he said.

Varanasi is no stranger to bomb blasts. This week's attack is the fourth in the town since 2005.

Varanasi is one of Hinduism's most holy cities. Thousands visit the town to offer prayers or to cremate their dead along the banks of the Ganges River.

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