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India's Holy City Hums with Life as Kashmiri Group Claims Responsibility for Blasts

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In India, the holy Hindu city of Varanasi has bounced back to normal two days after it was hit by deadly bomb blasts. An unknown Muslim militant group in Kashmir has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed 20 people and wounded dozens.

Shops reopened, streets bustled with traffic and devotees flocked to temples in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state on Thursday. Hundreds of tourists and Hindu pilgrims returned for a holy dip in the famed bathing areas on the banks of the Ganges River, which flows along the city.

Security has been tight in the wake of the bomb blasts that targeted an ancient temple and the city's rail station on Tuesday - but fears that sectarian violence could convulse the Hindu holy town are subsiding. A previously unknown Islamist group, the Lashkar-e-Kahar or "Army of Terror" called a news agency in Kashmir claiming responsibility for the blasts.

A spokesman threatened to carry out more such attacks if "India does not stop excesses against Kashmiri Muslims."

Security analyst, Bharat Karnad at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research says the group is probably a front for a more prominent Islamic group fighting to end Indian rule over part of the Kashmir region.

"Lashkar-e-Kahar is obviously a cover, Lashkar-e-Taiba being the real culprit," he said.

Police officials say it is too early to say who was responsible for the blasts, but the Lashkar-e-Taiba group is on the list of suspects.

They released sketches of two suspected bombers, and said that according to witnesses they looked and spoke like Kashmiris. Two of the bombs that exploded within minutes of each other had been placed inside pressure cookers.

Police had managed to defuse two other bombs before they could explode.

Varanasi was rocked by explosions four months after coordinated blasts killed dozens of people in the Indian capital New Delhi, just before the main Hindu festival of Diwali.

Karnad says Islamic militant groups are mounting such attacks to create a divide between the majority Hindus and Muslims, who make up 12 percent of the country's population.

"These blasts are not merely to bloody a few people or kill a few people here and there," he said. "The idea is they are banking on some kind of Hindu backlash or majoritarian backlash so that in turn would radicalize the common Muslim population, and that I think is the larger aim"

Varanasi, is one of the world's oldest cities and a prominent center of Hinduism.

It is usually packed with Hindu pilgrims and foreign tourists.

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