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THIRD PILLAR BOMBED
- Delhi High Court after Parliament and Red Fort
- 11 killed, 76 injured in morning blast

New Delhi, Sept. 7: A briefcase bomb killed 11 persons and wounded 76 in the reception room of Delhi High Court this morning in an attack timed to snare scores of public interest litigants that throng the premises on Wednesdays.

The daylight attack in the capital completed a circle of terror that can now count among its targets all the three pillars of democracy. The Red Fort, the symbol of India’s executive authority, in 2000; Parliament, the house of the world’s largest democracy, in 2001; and now Delhi High Court, the judicial arm that is only a notch below the Supreme Court.

The purported reason for the blast linked it to the Parliament attack. An email attributed to HuJI claimed that the blast was in retaliation to Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s death sentence.

“We owe the responsibility of today’s blast at (the) high court in Delhi. Our demand is that Afzal Guru’s death sentence should be repealed immediately else we would target major high courts and the Supreme Court of India,” the email said.

A police officer said the force was “examining” the content of the email.

“A wing of the HuJI is based in Pakistan while the other is active in Bangladesh. We are not sure which wing has allegedly claimed responsibility,” the officer said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was on an official visit to Bangladesh, chose words that he usually does not use. Singh said he was confident that “this is a war that we will and must win”.

However, the Prime Minister conceded that “there are obviously unresolved problems and weaknesses in our system and the terrorists are taking advantage of that”.

Today’s blast the deadliest in the capital since the 2008 serial explosions killed over two dozen people left a crater 3-4ft deep and threw up more than one glaring weakness.

Dress rehearsal

One was the belated realisation that a minor explosion on May 25 another Wednesday outside the same court and barely 100 metres from today’s explosion site could have been a dress rehearsal that set the stage for today’s far more destructive blast.

Wednesday draws huge crowds to the court as public interest litigation a symbol of individual freedom in the country are taken up.

“Apparently, that was a dress rehearsal for today’s explosion. They knew that they can make the maximum effect with minimum effort by choosing a sensitive place with no security system in place,” said D.K. Sharma, the secretary of the Delhi High Court Bar Association.

CCTV hole

No one was injured in the May blast, but lack of CCTVs at such a high-profile location and adequate checks even three months on raised doubts over the country’s ability to protect important institutions despite overhauling security after the 26/11 siege of Mumbai.

“Around 1.5 lakh people, mostly ordinary litigants, come with their grievances on Wednesday. This is why the perpetrators chose the day. Police had decided to install CCTVs to monitor movements of visitors after the May blast but it did not happen. With CCTVs in place, police could have identified the perpetrators who were aware of the lapse,” Sharma said.

Delhi police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said CCTVs couldn’t be installed as there was delay in awarding tender to companies initially selected for carrying out the job.

Additional police commissioner K.C. Diwedi said the explosive was concealed in a suitcase outside the reception counter. “There were 100-150 people in and around the counter. There was a huge explosion and within seconds people were lying on the blood-splattered road. Some died on the spot.”

Limbs strewn

The 10.14am blast left limbs strewn on the road.

“I thought it was a cylinder blast. Nothing was visible for a moment, then I saw people lying on the ground, blood oozing from their bodies,” shuddered witness Naresh Thapa. “I almost fainted seeing pieces of two legs lying in the middle of the road.”

Later in the day, police released sketches of two suspects based on descriptions given by one of the injured who claimed he saw them moving around the reception counter with the bag. Diwedi said “there is a possibility that ammonium nitrate along with shrapnel and splinters were used” to make the bomb.

Home minister P. Chidambaram visited the spot and said: “The briefcase was placed next to a parapet that marked the space where visitors gather to collect their passes.”

Symbolic gesture

The court “symbolically” resumed work post-lunch for five to 10 minutes.

“It was a symbolic gesture to send a message across that we were not bogged down by the attack. No orders in any of the listed cases were passed by judges,” said Pradeep Diwan, member executive, Delhi High Court Bar Association.

Tough questions

On his return from Dhaka, the Prime Minister drove to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital where most of the injured are admitted. A woman, whose father was among the injured, said she asked the Prime Minister to ascertain how many blast victims had been provided jobs.

Angry relatives of victims interrupted health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s media conference to complain about lack of doctors and delay in lab reports. An apologetic Azad described the reaction as “natural in times of tragedy”.

 ROCKED

Bombed and then rocked. A 4.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Delhi and its outskirts at 11.28pm, causing people to run out of their homes in panic. The quake was epicentred in Sonipat, Haryana, but many residents said they didn’t feel it. Delhi residents reported a strong vibration that lasted less than five seconds.

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