A girl injured in one of the blasts in Hyderabad. (PTI)
Hyderabad, Feb. 21: At least 13 people were killed in multiple blasts near movie halls as well as bus stands in a teeming commercial and educational hub of Hyderabad this evening, 48 hours after the Centre had passed on to the states usual fears of a reprisal for Afzal Guru’s execution.
Officials said the toll could rise as more than 80 people were injured in at least two explosions at Dilsukhnagar, 5km from the landmark Charminar and known for markets, education institutes and as an avenue for quick getaway because of its proximity to a highway. A third bomb was defused later.
No direct link was established till late tonight between the hanging of the Parliament attack convict less than a fortnight ago and the explosions. The Prime Minister appealed for calm and requested citizens to maintain peace.
But the Union home ministry as well as Andhra Pradesh police appeared to have more or less concluded that the explosions were the handiwork of terrorists. Union home secretary R.K. Singh said in Delhi that the near-simultaneous and powerful blasts indicated a “terror attack”.
Andhra DGP V. Dinesh Reddy said improvised explosive devices were used in the two blasts.
The bombs — the first explosion was thought to be a gas cylinder blast because of eateries in the vicinity known for evening snacks — appeared to have been placed and timed to cause maximum damage.
The first device went off around 7pm near an eatery opposite Konark movie hall, killing five to six people on the spot.
Within two to three minutes and before bystanders could recover from the impact, another explosion took place around 100 metres away. The location this time was another crowded area — a bus stand close to Venkatadri theatre.
Six persons were suspected to have been killed in the immediate aftermath of the second blast. But since the intensity of this explosion was larger than the first one, more casualties are feared.
The diabolical nature of the plot was evident as the blast took place just when the evening show had ended at Venkatadri and the viewers were pouring out. The belt has at least 10 bus shelters in a row, usually bustling with passengers and vendors.
“Because of the second day of the general strike, the traffic on the route was slightly less today,” said Gopal Rao, a police officer in Dilsukhnagar.
DCP Ravi Verma said the bombs were planted on the backseats of two bicycles — one near Anand Tiffin Centre and another near the bus stand. The bombs were kept in steel lunch boxes normally used by day labourers.
DGP Reddy said tonight that the police had defused another bomb near Sampoorna theatre in Vanasthalipuram, around 5km from Dilsukhnagar.
Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde spoke of intelligence inputs for the past two days, which were shared with all states, but he added that there was no specific information “like this”.
Official sources said a general alert was issued for two consecutive days from February 19 to all major cities, suggesting a possible attack by Pakistan-based terror groups to avenge the hangings of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and 26/11 gunman Ajmal Kasab.
Some intelligence officers said such alerts were routine and usually not “actionable” (so sketchy that little action is possible), but they cautioned that they were speaking from experience and not about this particular case.
A team of forensic experts of the National Security Guard was tonight flown to Hyderabad. Members from the Chennai hub of the Black Cat commando force have also been sent to the Andhra Pradesh capital.
State intelligence teams have been checking on several suspects, including two recently acquitted in a case related to Gujarat. Police sources claimed that a person arrested recently had confessed in Delhi that he had surveyed Dilsukhnagar in December 2012.