Terror strikes Varanasi again; India on high alert
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow and Vicky Nanjappa
One infant was killed and 37 others, including six foreigners, were injured in a blast that rocked the crowded Shitla Ghat bank of the Ganga river during evening prayers in Varanasi, about 300 km from Lucknow, on Tuesday evening.
The victim, identified as eleventh-month old Swastika Sharma, was at the blast site with her mother for the prayers. She fell from the lap of her mother after the blast and succumbed to injuries at the Marwari Hospital in the city, officials said.
"The blast took place while hundreds of people had gathered at the Shitla Ghat for the routine evening 'aarti' (prayer)", Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal told mediapersons in Lucknow, barely an hour after the incident.
Even as the forensics team was pressed into service to probe the Varanasi blast, which also triggered a stampede, investigators have found two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the blast site.
The first IED was recovered from a milk container which triggered off the explosion while the other was found at a dust bin at the blast site.
Hospital officials said 37 people were injured, including six foreigners. Officials said 20 injured were admitted to BHU Hospital, 13 in Kabir Chaura Hospital and four in Heritage Hospital.
Among the injured foreigners was an Italian, Alexandeo Mantello, who was now out of danger, police said. According to hospital sources, the others were French national Rachael, Ki Taro from Japan, South Korean Wan Sen Kim, Italian national Lydia de Mayo and German national Ozel.
With inputs from PTI
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Image: Onlookers stand at the site of a blast in Varanasi on Tuesday
'The bomb was assembled by a professional'
Forensic teams were airlifted from Agra and rushed to Varanasi for detailed investigations, the ADG said. "They collected some samples from the blast site, as they arrived late on Tuesday night," officials said.
The material and especially the IED will be used to find more details about the bomb. However, there is a practical problem and unlike investigations in the past the signature of an attack cannot be determined.
Terror groups seem to have restructured their strategy in Tuesday's blast and tend not to use the same mechanism in every blast since they have realised that then they would be leaving a trail, said experts.
The finding of the IED and the material around the site give the indication that it was not a rookie job. The bomb was assembled by a professional and was aimed more at creating panic and also sending out a message, sources added.
Meanhwile, some people suffered injuries due to the blast while some were hurt during the stampede which occurred due to the collapse of a railing. Some of the injured persons were reportedly hurt by metal pellets.
Eyewitnesses said a loud noise which also shook some nearby buildings was heard when the explosion occurred at around 6:20 pm IST on Tuesday.
Image: Onlookers stand at the site of a blast in Varanasi on Tuesday.
Varanasi, terror's favourite target
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati visited the blast site late on Tuesday night. She said the Central government should make security forces and equipment available to Uttar Pradesh, especially for Varanasi, the way it had done after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai.
She will write a letter to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister in this regard on Wednesday.
Last time Varanasi was rocked by twin-blasts on March 7, 2006, leaving 20 dead and over a 100 injured.
While one of the blasts took place near the main foyer of Varanasi railway station, the other occurred within a span of minutes at the popular Sankat Mochan temple, about 7 kilometers away from the site of the first blast.
The blasts had literally shaken the Hindu pilgrimage city, that draws both Hindu devotees as well as a large number of foreign tourists.
A general advisory was issued to all states in the country in the wake of the blast in Varanasi on Tuesday, Union Home Secretary G K Pillai said. Pillai also confirmed that it was a low intensity blast.
Image: A view of the site of the blast at a Varanasi Ghat.