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Bomb Blasts Hit Soweto - 2002-10-30

A series of bomb blasts has rocked the South African township of Soweto. Police say one woman was killed in the attacks, which mainly targeted railway lines. Some officials are blaming right-wing extremists, but others say it is too early to know who is responsible.

South African police say nine bombs went off in the early hours of the morning at several locations in Soweto.

The first explosion, shortly before midnight local time, blew a hole in the wall of a mosque. Over the next hour and 45 minutes, eight more blasts struck three railway stations in or near Soweto.

One blast killed a 42-year-old woman and injured her husband when their shack was hit with flying debris as they slept. They were roughly half a kilometer from the blast site.

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula says the bombers clearly knew what they were doing. "There are a few indicators that point to the fact that whoever manufactured ... the bombs and who placed them are people who are experts," concluded Minister Nqakula. "They knew what they were doing. Thirdly it is quite clearly a very powerful explosion, because as you indicate the shrapnel traveled that distance to cause the death of the lady."

Police say the bomb squad defused at least one other device before it could explode. Mr. Nqakula says that bomb, which was placed at a filling station, could have caused major damage if it had gone off and ignited the underground fuel tanks.

Police are investigating whether the Soweto bombings are linked to a small blast that injured two people at a Buddhist temple near Pretoria. It occurred in the tiny town of Bronkhorstspruit about 11 hours after the Soweto blasts. Police say a detonator went off, but failed to ignite about 10 kilograms of explosives in a bag nearby.

Police say no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Mr. Nqakula and two other cabinet ministers who spoke to reporters in Soweto refused to speculate on who might be behind the bombings.

But both the police commissioner and the president have indicated they believe right-wing extremists may be to blame.

Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi told parliament two white men were seen acting suspiciously near the filling station where the final bomb was defused. He said "a major rightwing organization" is suspected of planting the bombs.

President Thabo Mbeki told reporters in Cape Town security officials believe a small number of people intend to conduct a terror campaign to destabilize the country. He called the bombers "criminals."

In the past two months, police have discovered several weapons caches and have arrested 15 alleged white supremacists who are accused of plotting to attack the government. Three more suspects are on the run.

In Soweto, residents are both frightened and angry that their community has been targeted. Student Lorraine Simelane, 23, was walking home along a road near the damaged mosque. She says she will not go shopping again until "they make sure we are safe."

"I am not going to go to any market for now," she said. "I am going to stay indoors until, I am telling you, until two weeks [from now]. Not now. Yes, I am scared."

Ms. Simelane wants the government to do something to make her feel safe again.

South African officials say they will stop at nothing to catch the bombers. They are urging people to remain calm and not to take the law into their own hands. They are also asking anyone with information about the attacks to call the police immediately.