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India Investigates Possible Militants' Involvement in Pune Blasts

Indian police are investigating the possible involvement of an Indian Islamist group and Pakistan-based militants in a bomb blast that killed nine people in the Western city of Pune. The blast occurred just one day after India and Pakistan scheduled their first peace talks in more than a year. The talks are likely to go ahead despite the bombing attack.

Police officials in Pune say they hope to identify the attackers by examining security camera footage from a hotel across the street from the popular bakery.

They say one or two persons posing as customers appear to have planted a bag crammed with explosives under a restaurant table.

Indian officials say no conclusions can yet be drawn on who is behind Saturday's blast.

But domestic media say police believe an Indian Islamist movement, the Indian Mujahideen, could have carried out the attack with the support of the Pakistan-based Islamic militant group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The Indian Mujahideen has been blamed for previous bomb attacks in 2008 in New Delhi.

A security alert has been sounded in three more Indian cities - Delhi, Kanpur and Indore, following the blast in Pune. Security has also been tightened at airports, rail stations and markets.

The bomb blast that ripped through the Pune bakery was the biggest terror strike in India since Pakistan-based Islamic militants killed more than 160 people in Mumbai in 2008.

The attack came just a day after India and Pakistan agreed to meet on February 25th to reopen a peace dialogue that New Delhi put on hold after the Mumbai blasts.

Officials in New Delhi did not speak on record, but indicated that the talks will go ahead.

A strategic expert with the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, Bharat Karnad says it is important that India resumes talks with its rival Pakistan.

"The composite talks should not be held hostage to random terrorist acts," Karand said. "This is a good sign, its a sign of maturity in bilateral relations, and the desire on both sides to return to normalcy."

There are fears that any sign of involvement by Pakistan-based militants in the Pune attack will damage the tentative efforts to restore relations between the two countries. Hindu nationalists have already demanded that India reconsider going ahead with the talks.

Meanwhile, India Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said the government wants to question a terror suspect who is detained in the United States, and is accused of scouting for targets in India ahead of the Mumbai attacks.

Officials say David Headley had stayed at a meditation retreat, the Osho Ashram, on a previous visit to Pune. The Ashram lies close to the bakery which was hit by Saturday's blast.

Two foreigners were among those killed in the Pune attack, and 12 foreigners were among the nearly 60 people injured.