Angry relatives clash with police after mosque bombing in India

Sunday, May 20, 2007
Muslims pelted policemen with stones Saturday, a day after a bomb exploded in Hyderabad, India. Hundreds of police in riot gear deployed Saturday throughout the mostly deserted streets of Hyderabad, hoping to prevent anger over Friday's attack at the 17th-century Mecca Masjid mosque that left 10 people dead and 35 wounded, and the ensuing clashes with police that left four others dead. (MAHESH KUMAR A ~ Associated Press)

The explosion sparked fears of a resurgence of religious violence.

HYDERABAD, India -- Relatives of people killed in a bomb blast at a 17th century mosque in India complained Saturday that police had not adequately protected worshippers, as angry Muslim residents pelted police with stones, injuring at least four officers.

The bomb, hidden under a bench in the mosque's courtyard, exploded during prayers Friday, killing 11 people and sparking fears of a resurgence of religious violence that has plagued the city of Hyderabad in the past.

During clashes that erupted between security officials and Muslim protesters after the blast, police opened fire on stone-throwing crowds, killing five.

S.K. Jellani, who lost two family members in the blast, said he was nearly as upset with police as he was with the bombers.

"The police have failed in providing security, and they then deliberately killed people on top of that," Jellani said. "I don't have faith in the police because they are the killers."

Hundreds of police in riot gear were deployed throughout Hyderabad's streets, with many shops closed for a daylong strike called by Muslim groups to protest the attack. Muslim residents briefly pelted officers with stones, but there were no reports of religious violence.

Protesters erected black mourning flags across the city, and families of those killed prepared for funerals.

Authorities across India were told to be alert for any signs of Hindu-Muslim fighting, and officials called for calm.

Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, where Hyderabad is located, called the bombing an act of "intentional sabotage on the peace and tranquility in the country," but said the security situation was "totally under control."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also condemned the attack, the second on a mosque in a year, and urged Indians to remain peaceful.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Indian media reported that intelligence agencies were looking at a possible link to Islamic militant groups based in predominantly Muslim neighboring Pakistan, India's longtime rival.

Muslim resentment

None of the reports offered any reasons why investigators would suspect Muslim groups in an attack on a mosque, but the militants are routinely blamed even when Muslims are targeted.

Such accusations stoke resentment among Muslims, who account for about 130 million of India's 1.1 billion people, about 80 percent of whom are Hindu.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim federal lawmaker, met grieving family members of those killed outside the mosque and said he would demand an investigation by the independent Central Bureau of Investigation.

"We don't have confidence in the local police to catch the real culprits," he said, adding that he suspected the involvement of Hindu extremists in the attack.

But Home Minister Shivraj Patil said it was too early for the government to order a judicial inquiry or a CBI probe. "The government of Andhra Pradesh is quite capable of handling any difficult situation on its own," he told reporters.

Hyderabad, a city of 7 million people, about 40 percent of whom are Muslim, has long been plagued by communal tensions -- and occasional inter-religious bloodletting.

Five people were killed and 27 wounded in Hindu-Muslim clashes in 2003. The fighting began when Muslims marked the anniversary of the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque by Hindu extremists in northern India in 1992.

The worst bout of religious violence in recent years came in 2002 in the western Gujarat state. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed by Hindu mobs after a train fire killed 60 Hindus returning from a pilgrimage. Muslims were blamed for the fire.

A series of blasts have also hit India in the past year, including the July bombings of seven Mumbai commuter trains that killed more than 200 people.

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