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February 14, 1998


Coimbatore blast toll rises to 81

A fresh bomb blast rocked Coimbatore late on Sunday evening even as the toll in Saturday's serial blasts rose to 81 on Sunday.

The blast occurred at Oppanakara street soon after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi returned to Madras after visiting the textile town. A man who attempted to flee the scene was arrested by the police who also defused a car bomb at R S Puram, the venue for Bharatiya Janata Party president L K Advani's Saturday meeting.

Fortytwo more victims of Saturday's blasts died in Coimbatore on Sunday. Police sources, who put the toll at 49 earlier in the day, told United News of India late on Sunday night that 32 bodies were lying in at least three private hospitals. About 190 people injured in the blasts are undergoing treatment in various hospitals.

The fatalities excluded the six extremists, who blew themselves up when the police cornered them in their hide-out in Thirumal street early on Sunday.

The extremists, who were hiding in a three-storeyed building in a busy area in the city, hurled bombs when a police party laid siege to it in the early hours of Sunday. When the police stormed the building, the six terrorists blew themselves up. Eight others were arrested. Three bags of explosives were seized from the hideout.

In another incident, one man was reported stabbed to death by two motor cycle-borne killers. Tamil Nadu home secretary R Poornalingam said Hindu extremists attempted to burn the home of S Ramanathan, the former Coimbatore MP, on Sunday eveing. Ramanathan's car was burnt in the incident. Hindu fundamnetalists also indulged in arson and violence in some other places, he added.

Army and paramilitary forces kept vigil. While shops and other establishments remained closed, buses began plying, skipping trouble-prone areas.

Twentytwo people, including Al-Umma founder president S A Basha and four activists of the All India Jihad Committee, who were arrested on Saturday night after the Tamil Nadu government banned the two Islamic organisations in the wake of the Coimbatore blasts, have been remanded to judicial custody in Madras for 15 days.

The Egmore judicial magistrate remanded them when they were produced before him on Sunday afternoon amidst tight security. The police said 600 activists were arrested in midnight and early morning raids on the Al-Umma and Jihad offices in Madras and Coimbatore.

Soon after the government slapped the ban, the police raided the Al-Umma office in Triplicane, Madras, and seized 75 petrol bombs, a few detonators, nylon ropes, gunny bags filled with stones and blue metal, chilli powder and 140 books including some dealing with the Kashmir problem, besides Rs 14,000 in cash.

Al-Umma has denied its involvement in the serial blasts. Condemning the blasts, organisation general secretary Mohammad Ansari, in a statement, said Al-Umma would suspend all its activities in view of the ban and take legal steps to get the ban lifted.

Stating that those who were behind the blasts would ultimately be exposed one day, Ansari, quoting the Mahabharat, said truth alone would always triumph. He claimed the organisation was a democratic one and never believed in violence.

The state government has denied the report that a human bomb attack had been planned against Advani at Coimbatore on Saturday. Based on the report, an enquiry was conducted by state Chief Secretary K A Nambiar, Home Secretary Poornalingam and Director General of Police F C Sharma. The three officers discovered that the bombs had only been placed in cars, carts and tiffinboxes.

The government also denied that a bomb went off, about 100 metres from the dais of the venue, from which Advani was scheduled to address an election meeting. On the contrary, the government claimed, the bomb exploded about 820 metres from the rostrum.

As a fragile peace prevailed in the city, Karunanidhi visited the medical college hospital and consoled the injured. He announced a grant of Rs 200,000 to those killed in the blasts. The first instalment of Rs 100,000 each to the next of kin of those killed was paid on Sunday itself, he claimed, and the balance would be made in a day or two. The state government has allocated Rs 20 million for the victims and suvivors of the blasts.

Talking to reporters after visiting the hospital, the chief minister said what had happened in Coimbatore was "barbarous and inhuman" . "Even during wars, hospitals were spared, but here the hospital became the target of the attack," he said.

His government, Karunanidhi said, would proceed against fundamentalist organisations, irrespective of their communal affiliations if they resorted to violence. Asked whether the 'soft policy' adopted towards the two banned organisations was not responsible for their growth, he replied in the negative and said any action taken in haste would have its repercussions.

Karunanidhi said his government was determined to end the bomb culture in the state, which, he felt, was backed by external forces.

This view was backed by Home Minister Indrajit Gupta in Calcutta. At a press conference in Calcutta on Sunday, the home minister accused Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency of fomenting trouble to disrupt the general election.

Gupta said the ISI had become increasingly active in border areas with the sole purpose to disrupt the election. "The ISI is not only instigating divisive forces in India through its agents in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Nepal, but also illegally supplying them arms and ammunition,'' he said.

The minister referred to the Coimbatore blasts and said he had also received reports of foreign involvement in such incidents of ''communal terrorism.'' However, he reacted strongly to Advani's comment on Saturday night that 'the war has now reached every home and street ' and said "such thoughtless remarks could be very dangerous for the country." He rejected Advani's contention, saying the situation was not so bad as to lead to a civil war.

Meanwhile, BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy has alleged that the chief minister's provocative election speeches as well as the advertisement released by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam depicting the Babri Masjid demolition had resulted in the serial blasts.

The chief minister's statement that the blasts were the result of a foreign conspiracy was only to shirk responsibility for the incidents, Krishnamurthy, a candidate in Monday's election from Madras South, said.

The BJP had warned the government about ISI activities in the state in the past few years and the state intelligence organisation was aware of it, he added. He said the government now blamed Al-Umma and the Jihad Committee although the two organisations had been active in promoting the bomb culture. The "awfully" belated step of banning the two organisations was only to deflect the people's anger of the people towards the chief minister, he claimed. "This delayed action is like bolting the doors of the stable after the horses have fled," he added.


BJP reaches out for a constituency no one wants
Fear over the city
Fear and loathing in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu cops under heavy fire for Coimbatore violence
Al-Umma wants to protect the Muslims and fight the RSS

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