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Hit on secular symbol
- Blast in Ajmer shrine before festival season

Jaipur, Oct. 11: A hidden bomb ripped through one of the country’s most secular shrines just after evening prayers today, killing at least two persons as thousands were breaking their daylong Ramazan fast.

The 6.12pm blast, just outside the revered Ajmer Sharif dargah in Rajasthan, triggered a near-stampede as terrified men and women ran for cover, many of them bleeding.

Sources said the low-intensity bomb was placed in a lunchbox under a neem tree in Begami Dalan yards from the shrine to the 12th-century Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti.

“We have recovered some mobile instruments, so we think some sophisticated device was used, but an investigation is going on,” said Ajmer additional police chief Lalit Maheswari.

The blast, which also injured 17 people, came days ahead of Id, one of the holiest dates of the Muslim calendar, and Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta asked all states to intensify vigil as the festive season draws near.

A red alert has been declared in Rajasthan, with emphasis on religious places.

State home minister Gulab Chand Kataria said the explosion may have been intended to create panic.

Collector Navin Mahajan said a peace committee meeting attended by both Hindus and Muslims have condemned the attack.

The blast came around the same time militants stormed a police camp in Kashmir, firing guns and throwing grenades.

In Ajmer, eyewitness Gulam Kibriya said panic-stricken people ran in all directions. “The three main exit points were naturally jammed with everybody trying to rush out at the same time.”

With the Ramazan month on, sources said the shrine was packed with at least 5,000 people.

Divisional commissioner Deepak Upreti said one of the victims has been identified as 45-year-old Mohd Shoaib from Mumbai, one of whose affluent residents had earlier donated money to decorate in gold a part of the shrine.

Television pictures showed a man being stretchered from the site, his clothes apparently torn from his body, and what appeared to be a corpse with his eyes open.

The shrine, which contains the tomb of the Sufi saint, known as a benefactor of the poor, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Muslims in India. Seen as a symbol of communal harmony, it also draws people of other faiths, among them politicians and celebrities.

One of the high-profile visitors was Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai, though fellow actress Katrina Kaif sparked a controversy for entering the tomb in a knee-length skirt.

Singer Himesh Reshammiya, however, more than made up, sneaking in and out in a burqa.

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