| Pigeons in flight near Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad hours after the blast. (Reuters)
Hyderabad, May 18: A flock of pigeons almost symbolically flew out of a 313-year-old mosque as a bomb ripped through a Friday prayer crowd of over 3,000 today, killing nine worshippers.
Hours later, that image of wings of peace fluttering away from a blood-splattered Mecca Masjid seemed to capture the country’s deepest fears when police firing on protesting mobs killed four more persons.
The bombing coincides with the start of sentencing for the Mumbai blasts — India’s biggest terrorist strike — which saw five people given three years each today.
The mosque toll could rise with at least 55 people, including children as young as five, injured by an improvised explosive device that went off near the tank where the faithful wash their hands and face.
But the 1.25 pm tragedy could have been worse if clumsily tied wires hadn’t prevented three more bombs from exploding.
Minutes after the blast, the worshippers began shouting slogans against the police, prompting a nervous force to barricade them inside the mosque for over an hour, with only the injured carried out and taken to hospital. State police chief M.A. Basith explained this as a measure to prevent “the spread of rumours”.
But outside, the streets had turned into battlefields with mobs attacking shops, buses, petrol pumps and policemen, who replied with batons and tear gas before opening fire.
Late tonight, angry Muslim youths carrying stones and sticks were roaming the lanes and bylanes, yards away from the thousands of security personnel swarming over the city.
The police will be hoping that the huge congregation of Muslims planned in the city tomorrow is called off, especially with the bandh called by a Muslim organisation. Many delegates from other states were to participate in the Tablik-e-Jamat.
A red alert has been sounded across Andhra Pradesh, with paramilitary outposts set up at premier shrines like the Tirupati temple, Medak church, Shahigunj gurdwara and the Nellore dargah.
The blast took place seconds after the prayers had ended, said fruit vendor Syed Abu, 50. “I was about to get up when a stone hit me in the head and I fell down. Then another hit my face. People were bleeding… running helter-skelter.”
Several yards from his bed, outside the gates of Osmania Hospital, a mob of protesters shouted “Allah is great” and refused to let politicians enter.
The Andhra Pradesh police said the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed was the prime suspect. A Union home ministry source, though, pointed the finger at Deendar Anjuman, a banned outfit that had seven years ago carried out blasts in the state, mostly at temples, churches and Jewish memorials.
Kamal Farooqi, chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, said the police must look at “all angles to see whether the suspects are Muslim or Hindu extremists”.
The bombs were made of stick grenades packed into metal pipes and placed inside “tiffin boxes”, the state police chief said. “They were triggered by remote through a cellphone.”
Chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy, who cut short his Delhi trip to fly back with Union home minister Shivraj Patil, said the explosive used was either RDX or TNT. But the home ministry source said it could be a mix of ammonium nitrate and kerosene or petrol.
Ammonium nitrate had been found also in the bombs that killed 31 people and injured over 300 in Malegaon’s Bada Kabrastan graveyard-cum-mosque and Mushaira Chowk last September 8.
That attack also happened after Friday prayers, and so too the blasts that injured 10 in Delhi’s Jama Masjid the previous April. A team from Maharashtra police’s anti-terrorist squad, which probed the Malegaon and Mumbai train blasts, has left for Hyderabad.