Ayodhya, July 5: A group of militants came within 70 metres of blowing up the makeshift Ram temple at Ayodhya this morning, nearly 13 years after the demolition of the Babri mosque.
The militants blasted their way into what was until today believed to be one of India’s most secure places by exploding a jeep and storming in behind a hail of bullets and bursting grenades around 9.15.
Five militants were killed in a two-hour shootout with security personnel, who took time to retaliate after being stunned by the explosion. Another, killed in the jeep blow-up, was first thought to be the hired vehicle’s cleaner but could also have been a militant.
Shanti Devi, 72, had come to offer prayers for her late husband Ramcharan Yadav and was grievously injured in the crossfire.
Three CRPF jawans and another of the Provincial Armed Constabulary also were wounded in the battle.
|Sixty platoons of armed police and six of the Rapid Action Force will be stationed at the Jagannath temple in
Puri for the annual Rath Yatra on Friday.
|Security has been beefed up at the hill shrine of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati. Surveillance teams of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and police have been put on high alert.
|Not just places of worship, corridors of power have also been fortified. Policemen on guard at the entrance of the defence ministry headquarters in Delhi.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but security sources suspected the hand of the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
The bodies of the five militants were found only 70 metres from the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift Ram temple after the exchange of fire, with the limbs of two of them blown off, suggesting they were strapped with explosives.
Shaken by the incident that once again emphasised the vulnerability of a public place, no matter how secure, after strikes on Parliament and the Akshardham temple, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The entire country was shocked by the dastardly terrorist attack'. We will never compromise with terrorism. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind on this point.”
BJP chief L.K. Advani, who gave the Ram temple movement its momentum, said internal security had become lax under the United Progressive Alliance government.
As political shrapnel began to fly after the attack, there were questions if the Ayodhya controversy would come alive again with hardliners in the Sangh seizing on the incident to fan emotions.
The militants hired a white Mahindra and Mahindra Marshal from the taxi stand at Faizabad at 8 am, driving up to the 80-acre temple complex in the vehicle around 9. Five militants walked away after parking the jeep, which blew up half-an-hour later.
Yashpal Singh, the director general of police, said the militants were believed to have told the driver Rehan that they came from Akbarpur, about 60 km from here. Rehan, who was being interrogated, was paid Rs 1,300 for the vehicle.
“They first went to Sarayu river, about 3 km from the temple complex, and on their way back wanted to visit the area. One of the militants wanted to drive the car and when the driver protested, he was kicked out of the vehicle,” Singh said.
He added that the driver walked to the police station to file a complaint but by the time he reached, the blast had occurred.
“We must admit that they (militants) came dangerously close to the red zone (the 2.77-acre area around the makeshift temple) and were just 70 metres away,” said the commissioner of the Faizabad zone, Arun Kumar Sinha.
The shootout between the militants and the security forces occurred in the yellow zone, which means the group had pierced the outer security ring.
“Atankabadi ghuspet hai. Sabdhan (Militants have entered, beware),” the guards shouted as they rushed towards the Ram temple once the vehicle exploded a few yards from the fence of the disputed site.
The blast and the panic that followed among the guards allowed the militants time to rush in ' one climbed a neem tree to go over the fence around the disputed site.
“I found one of them scaling a neem tree and as I spotted him he pointed a revolver at me. I retreated home,” said Mahant Nawal Kishore Das, priest of the Sitaram temple in the complex.
The other four moved towards the Ram temple from another side through ground covered with shrubs.
One woman, who had gone to the temple, saw the four. “They were carrying bags of weapons,” she said.
Having gathered their wits, 16 security personnel took position in a generation room opposite the Ram temple.
“So sudden was the attack that we took time to open fire. We soon found that all four were inside the security cordon,” said Harendra Yadav, a jawan.
Once the shootout was over, two militants in white Peter England shirts were laid out near the Sita ki Rasoi temple, adjacent to the Ram temple. One with his leg blown off was lying near a grassy patch a few yards away and two others ' one with hands ripped out ' were on a higher plane. All five were aged 23 to 28.
Some documents were found on the terrorists but these were not enough to establish their identity. Sinha said three AK-47 rifles, 17 live grenades, a rocket launcher-type weapon, mobile phones and some currencies were also recovered from the militants.