| The blast site inside the hall (PTI)
Chandigarh/New Delhi, Oct. 14: A bomb ripped through a hall in a Ludhiana multiplex this evening, killing a child and five adults among a holiday crowd of movie-watchers on Id-ul Fitr.
The 8.40pm bombing, the first in a multiplex in India, left over 30 injured and sent 700-odd people rushing out of the three theatres in the building, nearly causing a stampede.
“There was a big noise followed by smoke – then there was chaos all round,” said an employee of the Shingar multiplex at Samrala Chowk.
Police said the bomb exploded minutes after a Bhojpuri movie, Janam Janam Ka Saath Hai, had begun playing. Eyewitnesses said some of the dead had their limbs torn off.
Both Kashmiri and Khalistani groups figured on the state and central governments’ suspect list tonight, with Babbar Khalsa International at its top.
The audience was made up largely of Bihari migrants, a target for Khalistani outfits desperate to whip up sectarian passions. The bomb was placed under the cheaper seats at the front, where the Bihari labourers were concentrated.
Home ministry officials in Delhi said the explosion, coming days after the Ajmer Sharif dargah blast, was especially worrying because it appeared militants might now be targeting not only the few big cities but the numerous small towns, too.
Neither Ajmer nor Ludhiana was on the ministry radar, an official said, although security agencies were particularly alert during a festive season that included Id, Navratri and Durga Puja. The Ajmer attack has been blamed on the Harkat-ul Jihadi Islami but Punjab is not known for Islamic militancy.
State police chief N.P.S. Aulakh described the explosion as “low-intensity”.
“Six people are dead but the number may go up,” Ludhiana deputy inspector-general Ishwar Singh said.
The injured, at least 10 of whom are said to be critical, mostly have arm and leg injuries, a doctor at the Christian Medical Hospital said. “They are basically bomb blast injuries.”
Khalistani extremists had carried out a string of cinema blasts in Delhi in the 1980s. Their latest attack came in May 2005, when blasts killed one person and injured over 50 in two Delhi theatres, Liberty and Satyam.
Babbar Khalsa, which carried out those strikes, could now be retaliating to the death sentence given to its leader Jagtar Singh Hawara for the 1995 assassination of Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, officers said. Intelligence agencies have been warning of a militancy revival in Punjab ever since the unrest after the Dera Sacha Sauda chief was accused of insulting Guru Gobind Singh.
The state government has sounded a red alert.
Police and army forensic experts were examining the blast site tonight to determine the nature of the bomb.