A man injured in the Pune bakery blast being stretchered to a hospital. (Fotocorp)
Mumbai, Feb. 13: At least nine people were killed when a bomb ripped through a popular Pune café packed with foreign tourists this evening, the terror strike shattering the 14-month lull that followed 26/11.
Five women were among those who died in the explosion, described by home minister P. Chidambaram as a significant terrorist incident, at German Bakery, a favourite hangout of westerners and Indians alike.
The café is located across the road from the Osho ashram in Punes tony Koregaon Park area and is metres away from Jewish prayer house Chabad House. One of the targets of the November 2008 Mumbai strikes was the Nariman House Jewish centre.
The explosion came only a day after India and Pakistan agreed to meet for foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi on February 25. India suspended the fragile peace process with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks.
Unconfirmed reports said around five foreigners may have perished in the blast, one of them a Taiwanese national. However, Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said so far the death of one foreign national had been established. At least 45 people have been wounded.
K.P. Raghuvanshi, head of the Mumbai anti-terrorism squad, said 5-7kg of explosives was used to make the improvised bomb.
The IED, kept in an unattended packet outside the kitchen of German Bakery, exploded around 7.30pm when a waiter tried to open it.
Union home minister Chidambaram said he was deeply distressed at the blast, the first act of terrorism since he took over from Shivraj Patil on November 30, 2008, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.
All the information available to us at the moment point to a plot to explode a device in a place that is frequented by foreigners as well as Indians, Chidambaram said.
Home secretary G.K. Pillai said forensic experts of the CBI and a team from the National Investigation Agency, set up after 26/11, would assist in the investigations.
The Centre, which has often in the past been quick to blame such terror strikes on groups based in Pakistan, was cautious in pinning responsibility this time.
Home secretary Pillai refused to immediately say who was responsible.
Till the forensic investigations are completed, we cannot ascertain who is responsible (for the blast), he said.
The only information he let on was that the American Lashkar-e-Toiba operative David Coleman Headley, who is in the custody of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, had surveyed the area, including the Osho ashram, during his India visits in 2007-8.
Sources said preliminary suspicion pointed to the Indian Mujahideen, made up of terrorists from the banned Simi and the Lashkar.
The explosion at German Bakery occurred when the restaurant was packed with tourists and foreigners enjoying a Saturday evening.
Eyewitnesses said the blast was so severe that several walls of the bakery collapsed. An auto-rickshaw driver outside was blown to pieces.
Asha Rajput, widow of an army officer, was on her way to meet friends when she heard the explosion.
The whole café was in flames. I had breakfast there this morning. The window frames had been ripped out and were lying on the street in flames. There was debris and smoke all around the bakery. I saw the signboard lying twisted on the street, the blast had blown it away. My driver said he saw body parts flying, Rajput said.
The explosion has again occurred on a Saturday, a favourite with terror-plotters. The Ahmedabad serial blasts of July 2008 occurred on a Saturday, as did the explosions that rocked Delhi in September 2008, which, like today, was the thirteenth day of the month. On October 29, 2005, also a Saturday, 62 people died in a blast at Delhis popular Sarojini Market.