Imphal, Aug. 16: A celebration of birth became an occasion for mourning when militants hurled a grenade at the Iskcon temple here in the midst of a Ras Lila performance to commemorate Janmashtami, killing four persons and leaving over 30 injured.
Police said a hand grenade of Chinese make landed on the precincts of the temple, located near Imphal airport, and exploded around 7.30 pm. The place was teeming with devotees, including foreigners, enjoying the Ras Lila performance when terror struck.
A middle-aged man, Nir Kumar Singh, died on the spot and two more victims — eight-year-old Anil Singh and a septuagenarian identified as K. Binod Kumar Singh — succumbed to injuries in hospital. The fourth person, aged around 40, had not been identified till late tonight.
Maharaja Damodar, head of the Iskcon Society of Manipur, suffered minor injuries and was discharged from the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) after first aid.
Two Americans, 50-year-old Lakshmi Pyari and 56-year-old Braynas (his surname is not known), are in the list of injured. The duo arrived in Imphal from Calcutta yesterday specifically to attend the Janmashtami function, an Iskcon official said.
A RIMS doctor described Braynas’s condition as “very critical”.
An Iskcon official said the bomb was lobbed from outside the temple campus. “There was chaos after the blast. People started running helter-skelter and there was little we do about it,” he said.
Police reinforcements were rushed to the site immediately after the explosion and a combing operation launched in the area to apprehend the militants who hurled the grenade.
One of the witnesses, 36-year-old Jamuna Devi, said she and her husband were watching the Ras Lila performance with some family friends when they heard a deafening sound and saw people falling down in a heap. She said some of her friends went missing after the blast.
Nearly 8,000 people were present on the temple campus at the time of the blast, Iskcon officials added.
One woman present during the incident said she heard a loud sound, which triggered a stampede. Many of the devotees were injured in the subsequent stampede, she added.
“Initially, I thought that a tyre had burst. But suddenly I saw some profusely-bleeding people being carried away. Then I realised that it must have been a bomb blast,” she said.
She was still in a state of shock and disbelief that such a thing could happen at a religious congregation.
Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh visited the injured in the hospital. He condemned the attack and said his government would make every effort to nab the culprits and bring them to book.
The chief minister ruled out a security lapse, arguing that religious congregations had never been the target of attacks in the past. Neither Ibobi Singh nor the police hinted at the involvement of any militant group.