In a well coordinated terror attack by suspected Indian Mujahideen operatives, nine low- intensity serial blasts on Sunday targeted the world renowned pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya and Maha Bodhi Temple complex, one of the holiest Buddhist shrines.
The temple and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts which shook the holy town frequented by Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asia.
Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami said that serial explosions inside and outside Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar were a terror attack.
Teams from the National Investigation Agency and the National Security Guard have been sent for further investigations.
Security has been beefed up at the temple and adjoining areas, Director General of Police Abhayanand told reporters, adding that CCTV footage was being examined for leads to the terrorists.
The explosions, the first of its type to target the town and the temple, a UNESCO heritage site, took place between 5.30 and 5.58 am. The explosives were set off by timers.
Last year, the Delhi police claimed to have foiled a fidayeen attack in the town with the arrest of suspected Indian Mujahideen operatives.
The planned attack was meant to avenge the ‘atrocities’ against Muslims in Myanmar.
Security agencies suspect that IM may be behind today's multiple blasts.
No group has claimed responsibility for what the Centre and the state government have described as a terror attack in a region where Maoists have a strong foothold.
"While four blasts took place inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, three occurred in Karmapa monastery, one each near the famous 80-feet Buddha statue and at the bus stand near bypass," said Deputy Inspector General of Police, Magadh range, Nayyer Hussnain Khan.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said two live bombs were defused in the town.
A third bomb, hidden in a cylinder, was recovered from a village near Body Gaya hours after the blasts and defused.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who rushed to the blast site from Patna, demanded deployment of Central Industrial Security Force personnel to ensure security of the shrine.
"The serial blasts deserve the strongest condemnation in the strongest possible words as the perpetrators targeted the place of religious faith of crores of people with an aim to create fear among them," Kumar said.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the blasts, saying such attacks on religious places will "never be tolerated".
Mahabodhi temple, the target of serial blasts, has been closed for the general public but the prayers will continue to be held as usual, Abhayanand said.
The director general of police said no harm has come to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Buddhist temple.
Two monks were injured in the attack.
The two injured monks, one from Tibet and the other a national of Myanmar, were admitted to the Magadh Medical College and Hospital, said Arvind Singh, a member of the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee.
Singh said two bombs, one near the 80 feet statue and another at a bus stand, have been defused.
Asked about the nature of explosives used, S K Bharadwaj, Additional Director General, Law and Order, said they were low-intensity time bombs.
"We got information about six-seven months ago that there may be a terror attack on the Mahabodhi Temple. After that we had beefed up security and deployed extra forces," police said.
At the temple, security arrangements have been made outside the temple, while the security inside is the responsibility of temple trust officials, a senior police official said.
"The sanctum sanctorum of the Mahabodhi Temple is intact. The temple premises have been sanitised," Khan said.
An official of the Bodh Gaya committee said, "There were four blasts inside the temple premises. Fortunately, there was no damage to the Bodhi Tree or the main temple structure."
"In the first blast, which took place near the Bodhi tree, a table was blown up, because of which two persons were injured. The second blast was inside an enclosure where books were kept. The furniture was damaged but there was no damage to the monuments or statues," he said.
The state government had taken steps to improve security measures at the Mahabodhi temple and adjoining areas on the basis of all inputs given by the intelligence agencies, claimed Principal Secretary, Home, Amir Subhani on being asked why there was laxity in security.
The NIA, NSG teams were scheduled to arrive by a special helicopter on Sunday afternoon, but had to return to Delhi due to bad weather.
"The NIA, NSG teams will leave from Delhi by a commercial flight on Sunday night for Patna and from here, we will make arrangements for their onward journey to the temple town," the DGP said.
A senior Delhi police official said Bihar police and intelligence agencies had been alerted about Bodh Gaya temple being on the radar of terror outfits.
"The input was given on the basis of information we had obtained from a group of Indian Mujaheedin terrorists arrested in 2012 in the Pune blasts case," he said.
Attacking the Centre and the Bihar government, the Bharatiya Janata Party and other opposition parties accused both of failing to take steps to avert the terror strike despite getting timely warnings.
"It is a serious issue that central agencies had warned about this attack and given specific inputs that Bodh Gaya would be attacked and still no proper arrangements were made (by the state government). The central government must also take responsibility to avoid such attacks," said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
Congress General Secretary and communication department in-charge Ajay Maken said, "We condemn this horrific incident in Bodh Gaya. I urge the state government and other agencies to bring the guilty to justice as soon as possible. We also wish speedy recovery to all the injured."
Bihar BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said no measures were taken to prevent the attack despite the intelligence tip-offs and said the Centre and the state governments cannot escape the responsibility for the blasts.
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad put the entire blame on the Janata Dal - United government in the state.
"If intelligence inputs were given about possible attacks, the Bihar government has to take the full responsibility," he said.