Apparent bomb kills 8, injures 32 in a bakery near western India ashram

By Ashok Sharma, AP
Saturday, February 13, 2010

Apparent bomb kills 8 in Indian bakery

NEW DELHI — An apparent bomb tore through a crowded bakery popular with foreigners on Saturday in western India, killing at least eight people and wounding 42 near a famed meditation center. If confirmed, it would be the country’s first terror attack since the Mumbai rampage in 2008.

The blast in the city of Pune, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Mumbai, threatened to damage new efforts to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, with Hindu nationalist leaders already placing the blame for the explosion at India’s Muslim neighbor.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said the 7:30 p.m. explosion at the German Bakery, near the Osho Ashram, a renowned meditation center, was likely caused by a bomb and it killed at least eight people.

Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh put the death toll at nine, according to the Press Trust of India.

“It appears that an unattended package was noticed in the bakery by one of the waiters who apparently attempted to open the package when the blast took place,” Pillai told reporters.

The building and nearby shops were badly damaged and splattered with thick patches of blood and several limbs.

“I came running to the bakery after hearing the explosion. I found people lying all over the place,” said Abba More, who lives nearby.

One foreigner was among those killed and another was injured in the blast, he said, adding that their nationalities were not immediately known.

Harsh Vardhan Patil, a state minister, said 42 people have been hospitalized with injuries, six of them in critical condition.

Many of the bakery’s customers are foreign travelers who visit the ashram.

India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the blast in Pune was potentially the most “significant terrorist incident” since the Mumbai attacks.

“All the information available to us at the moment points to a plot to explode a device in a place that is frequented by foreigners as well as Indians,” he told the Press Trust of India news agency.

He said the government was waiting for the findings of forensic experts before drawing any conclusions.

If it is confirmed to be a bombing, it would be the first major terror strike in India since 10 Pakistan-based gunmen rampaged through hotels and the train station in the financial hub of Mumbai for 60 hours in November 2008, killing 166 people.

India has warned of a possible new attack in recent weeks and put its airports on alert for a possible hijacking attempt.

The blast came as ties between India and archrival Pakistan appeared to be warming.

The two countries agreed to hold talks in New Delhi on Feb. 25, their first formal negotiations since the Mumbai attacks.

Asked whether the blast was linked to the India-Pakistan talks, Pillai said: “Forensic investigations have just begun. Till they are completed, we will not know who is (involved).”

But Gopinath Munde, a senior Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader, asserted: “This again is an attack from Pakistan.”

Police, anti-terror squad members and forensic experts were at the scene investigating the explosion, while a team of federal investigators was flying to the city.

Pillai said the ashram, about 200 yards (meters) from the bakery, had been surveyed by David Headley, who is facing charges in Chicago that he helped scout out the targets for the Mumbai attack.

Ashok Chavan, the state’s top elected official, told reporters that Headley had also surveyed the Chabad Jewish center near the bakery in Pune.

He said no one has so far claimed had responsibility for Saturday’s attack.

In its aftermath, Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra state were put on high alert, said Chhagan Bhujbal, the state deputy chief minister.

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