Blast rocks Pune; 9 killed, 4 foreigners among 45 injured
Terrorists’ hand suspected
Just a day after both India and Pakistan decided to resume the stalled peace talks from February 25, a powerful improvised explosive device blast ripped through a popular bakery in the city, close to the Osho ashram, on Saturday evening killing at least nine people and injuring 45 in the first major terror attack after the 26/11 strikes.
Among the dead were five women, including a Taiwan national. Four foreigners were among the injured.
In New Delhi, Union home secretary G K Pillai on Saturday hinted that the blast in Pune may have targeted the Osho ashram, as it was just 200 yards from the explosion site.
Speaking to reporters late in the night, Pillai said the Osho ashram was one of the sites surveyed by Lashkar-e-Toiba operative David Headley during his visits to India.
The home secretary, however, did not say directly whether the government has secured leads on any terror group behind the blast. Headley, who visited India several times, is now in custody in the US for suspected terror links.
Pillai said the home ministry had sent out advisory to all the state governments to be on “high alert” following the incident. The advisory also warns all citizens not to approach or open any unidentified or unattended baggage but report such cases to the nearest police station. He said the Maharashtra anti-terrorist squad and forensic experts from the state government had already reached the scene and were conducting investigation.
“A team of forensic specialists from the CBI are being airlifted from Delhi to Pune to assist the state police in their investigation,” he added.
In Chennai, Union home minister P Chidambaram described the blast as a “significant terrorist incident” and said all the information pointed to a plot to trigger the explosion in a place frequented by foreigners and Indians.
The blast occurred around 7.15 pm inside German Bakery, a popular joint for foreign tourists visiting the Osho ashram. The bakery is in the second lane of Koregaon Park, the Osho commune on the fifth and a Jewish Chhabad House in the seventh lane.
Initial reports attributed the blast to an LPG cylinder explosion inside the bakery, which also runs a pantry. But the cylinders were found to be intact.
Preliminary investigations and statements of the injured led the police to believe that the IED was kept in a bag, which was left unattended in the bakery. One of the waiters spotted the bag and tried to open it when the IED exploded. The blast caused massive damage to the bakery, engulfing it in flames. A few vehicles parked close to the bakery were also damaged.
Pune joint commissioner of police Rajendra Sonawane described the incident as “suspected IED blast” and said he could not confirm more, as investigations were on. So far, no terror outfit has claimed responsibility for the blast, but investigators suspect the role of Indian Mujahideen, which was behind the serial bombings in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Delhi.
This part of Pune city is very strategic. The headquarters of the Army’s Southern Command as well as the various units of the Army such as the Intelligence School are located in the area. The Lohegaon Air Force station, which houses IAF’s frontline squadrons, including that of Sukhoi MKI-30, is just a few kilometres from here.
But the area is essentially famous for its Osho Commune, which attracts tourists from all over the world, particularly from the European countries, the US and Japan. Clearly, the terrorists chose their target well to get maximum international publicity.
Maharashtra minister of state for home, Ramesh Bagwe, who represents the constituency, rushed to the spot. The state Anti-Terrorist Squad team, too, arrived and began its probe. A tight “nakabandi” was enforced around the city to check all outgoing vehicles. A high alert has been sounded in Mumbai.