| Evening prayers after the blast inside Jama Masjid. (Reuters)
New Delhi, April 14: Baisakhi, Good Friday and the Muslims’ day of prayer ' two bomb blasts in close succession in Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid today strung the country’s three major communities together in a strange coincidence.
In the first attack on a mosque in the country outside Jammu and Kashmir, 13 people were injured in the low-intensity explosions in the 15th century mosque built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in Delhi’s walled-city area.
Mohammad Ehsan, who was inside the mosque when the blasts occurred, said: “We had just completed the last salaam when we heard a huge blast near the hauz-e-vazoo, a water tank inside the mosque where we wash our hands and feet before offering namaz.”
In Srinagar, militants launched a series of seven grenade attacks in busy areas of the city, killing five people, two of them women.
According to eyewitnesses, the first of the Jama Masjid blasts occurred around 5.10 pm when the congregation had just completed the “asar” or the third set of prayers. The second took place within 10 minutes, almost causing a stampede.
“There was a huge cloud of black smoke and we could see some pieces rain on us from the spot,” Ehsan, who runs a CD and mobile phone shop in front of the mosque’s main gate, said.
Delhi police officials said the bombs were packed inside two plastic bags ' one white and the other white and red. The bombs were crude explosives and did not have timers.
At the time of the blasts, there were about 100 persons around the spot. Only one of the victims was said to be in a serious condition, having suffered 50 to 70 per cent burn injuries.
“One of the men who was standing near the vazoo got hurt badly. The flesh of his entire leg got ripped off while another was hurt in the hand. I was standing a little away from the vazoo and I also got a little hurt in my foot,” Ehsan said.
Two of the injured were children ' Rashid, 14, and Mansoor, 9. Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari was not present when the blasts happened.
“As no craters were found at the place of explosion, low-intensity improvised devices appeared to have been used,” said K.K. Paul, Delhi police commissioner.
The government sounded a red alert in Mumbai, Lucknow, Varanasi and Ayodhya, other than Delhi.
After reviewing the situation, Union home minister Shivraj Patil said: “Thank God no one is dead. It is God’s grace that no lives have been lost in the blasts, and that no damage has been done to the masjid.
“People in and around Jama Masjid have given the message that on an occasion like this, the primary responsibility is to maintain law and order.”
But the big question that remained unanswered was why and who would carry out low-intensity blasts in Jama Masjid. Intelligence sources say that on the face of it, the use of low-intensity bombs negates the theory of Pakistan-based terrorists having a hand. But it is possible that they deliberately chose the country’s largest mosque to trigger communal strife.
The agencies are also exploring the angle of the blasts being a consequence of an internal feud to take control of the mosque.