M A I N   N E W S

LeT ultra shot as cops probe Varanasi blasts
Bombs in pressure cookers
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Varanasi, March 8
Even after 24 hours the Special Task Force entrusted to crack the Varanasi serial blasts killing about 20 and injuring 100 could claim only leads. They admitted that it was yet to be established if the LeT terrorist shot down on the outskirts of Lucknow on Wednesday morning was in anyway connected with the serials blasts in Varanasi.

Speaking to The Tribune the Special Task Force SSP, S.K. Bhagat, said the STF was verifying the papers found on the person of 42-year old Salaar alias Salem from Ujjain who was shot dead by his force to establish if he was the mastermind behind the Varanasi blasts.

Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav reiterating his point while speaking to the media here said that it would be too early to draw such conclusions while the STF was still following the preliminary leads.

It was sheer coincidence that the STF received a tip off from the J& K police on Tuesday regarding the dreaded terrorist entering Lucknow. With some brilliant planning a team led by additional SP Rajesh Pandey of the STF shot down the terrorist near Indira Canal at Gosainganj on the outskirts of Lucknow around 5.30 a.m.

Carrying a reward of Rs 50,000 by the Delhi police and Rs 15,000 by the Madhya Pradesh police on his head, Salaar was carrying certain papers, a .30 star pistol of Pakistani make, 2.5 kg of RDX, four detonators and some fuse wire, informed STF sources.

Honestly, it is to early to claim any breakthroughs but we are following certain leads which I cannot reveal right now. All I can say is that we are exploring their network. I assure you it is not an easy job, but we will crack it soon, said Bhagat who is part of the high level team rushed to Varanasi by the Chief Minister immediately after the blast.

DGP Yashpal Singh asserted that the Varanasi blasts are similar to the Delhi blasts. The Delhi blasts happened before Diwali and this comes just a few days before Holi. Bhagat also sees a similar pattern between the Delhi and Varanasi blasts as both were meant to cause extensive damage in crowded places.

Echoing what Home Minister Shivraj Patil told Parliament after his late night Varanasi visit, Bhagat also maintained that at all the three sites the bombs were placed inside pressure cookers.

While the final word can be said only after the forensic reports are received, Bhagat however informed that on the face of it a mix of RDX and ammonium nitrate were used as explosives.

The Central Intelligence and the STF have jointly released sketches of two suspects prepared with the help of a shopkeeper in Godowlia. According to the shopkeeper two suspicious looking persons bought a doormat from him for Rs 100 and left a gunny bag at his shop. When he protested they reportedly told him that they would collect it later. The alert shopkeeper informed the police who recovered pressure cookers from the bag.

The deep crater in front of the stationmaster’s office at Cantonment railway station is a reminder of the powerful blast that shook the holy city last evening. Blood marks and pieces of human remains could be seen as high as 15 feet. The ceiling of the railway building is marked with pockmarks from the pellets released in the blasts.

The windows of the two-storey railway station building and counters on the platform were completely shattered by the blasts. The glass smithereens working like missives causing extensive damage to those present at the time of the departure of Ganga Sagar Express — the VIP train to Delhi.

Two art students from the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidypeeth — Manish Pandey and Laxmi — who were capturing the hustle and bustle of the railway station during peak hours with charcoal on paper became victims of the blast.


Sonia in tears
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Varanasi, March 8
Despite a horde of political personalities of all hues descending on the blast-hit city, life was visibly normal. While BJP and Shiv Sena workers had forced the shops to remain closed, people could be seen moving on the roads, personifying the resilient spirit of the city a more than usual crowd visited the Sankatmochan temple — one of the sites of the blasts.

UPA President Sonia Gandhi’s visit late last night set the mood. Accompanied by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Minister of State Shriprakash Jaiswal, AICC in charge of UP Ashok Gehlot, Varanasi MP Rajesh Mishra, she was the first to visit the Sankatmochan temple and spent considerable time with the injured in the SSL Hospital.

Visibly moved to tears at the plight of the injured, she promised to nab those responsible for the blasts as soon as possible and ensure that they are punished. She assured that the Centre was providing all assistance to the state government in maintaining peace in the temple town. She went from bed to bed at the ICU enquiring about the patients and the nature of their injuries from the doctors, informed Dr D.K. Singh, ICU in charge.

Similarly, she spent time with Vishambarnath Mishra, the priest of Sankatmochan temple understanding the sequence of events. “I could detect tears in her eyes as I described the gory scene”, informed Mishra.

Reciprocating the sentiments, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav for once was all praise for Sonia Gandhi and the Central Government. “She did right by rushing here immediately,” he told at a crowded Press conference at the Circuit house in Varanasi.

Displaying a rapprochement that may have a long-term impact on the state’s future politics, Yadav while answering a question said he was getting full co-operation from the Centre.

Commending Central Home Minister Shivraj Patil for evincing deep concern over the tragedy, he admitted to have spoken to Patil five times since the blast “The Centre is extending all possible help,” he repeatedly pointed out.

While a high powered delegation of the Sangh parivar paid a visit to the city, did the usual rounds of the hospital, Sankatmochan Mandir and spoke to the press their attempt to bring the city to a grinding halt was clearly a failure.


Explosives hidden in pressure cooker: Patil
Security beefed up in North India
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 8
Explosives hidden inside a pressure cooker and a timer device were used to trigger blast in Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil said here today.

"I have been informed that the explosive was kept in a pressure cooker which had ammonium nitrate and a timer device," he told newspersons here after flagging off a BSF expedition to Mount Everest.

"The casualty at the temple was less and more lives were lost at the cantonment railway station," he said.

Meanwhile, Union Home Secretary V K Duggal said there were similarities between the twin blasts in Varanasi and the three explosions in Delhi on October 29 last which had been carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Both the bombs in Varanasi were kept in pressure cookers, the one in Sarojini Nagar in Delhi had also been planted in a pressure cooker, he said.

Meanwhile, a day after twin blasts rocked the temple town, security has been beefed up across North India with intensified alert near religious, historical and communal places including Mathura, Taj Mahal and Aligarh.

Taking no chances, security personnel were deployed heavily near religious institutions and places where minority communities were living to avoid any untoward incidents.

Vehicles were being thoroughly checked at sensitive and crowded places. The security of the Lahore-Delhi bus service has also been beefed up.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which provides aviation security and also security to vital installations across the country, has put all airports on "special alert" and upgraded its security in other vital installations, especially in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East.

"We have intensified security at airports and other vital installations after yesterday's twin blasts in Varanasi," CISF Director General S I S Ahmed told newspersons here.

"We have also intensified security in nuclear plants, space facilities, sea ports and oil refineries," he said.

As far security in temples, the CISF Chief said though his organisation was not mandated to provide security in religious installations, it had given consultancy to the Centre and the UP Government on upgradation of security in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi after an unsuccessful attempt by militants to storm Ayodhya in July last year.


Tourists unfazed as Varanasi bounces back
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Varanasi, March 8
Twenty one year old Rikuta Chiharu from Tokyo, the lone foreigner injured in Tuesday’s serial blasts in Varanasi, is too dazed to talk.

Rikuta emerges from the Sir Sundar Lal Hospital compound tightly holding on to a Japanese student. Her bandaged head is much better but the blank look reveals that she is yet to get over the shock of the blast that she witnessed at the Cantonment railway station last evening.

However, other foreigners present in the holy city of Varanasi are not complaining.

Nicolas and Nadine, a young couple from France, speaking to Tribune at the railway station said that the blast occurred barely an hour before they arrived in Varanasi for a brief halt before proceeding to Bodh Gaya. “There was some problem in our train and it was cancelled. So now we have decided to go to Darjeeling instead”, they say most nonchalantly.

The couple has no plans of cutting short their month-long sojourn in the country and plan to carry on with their itinerary with a “few adjustments if needed”. Declaring that they did not feel any sense of horror or fear, the French couple said that terrorism is something tourists’ will have to learn to live with.

UP State Tourism had a mandir-shaped office barely six feet away from the site of the blast near the stationmaster’s office. The explosion left it completely devastated. Information officer Uma Shankar and tourist police constable O. P. Singh were injured.

Regional Tourist Officer Anoop Srivastava was supervising the repair of the tourist office at the railway station while giving feedback to the foreigners in the city. He admitted that the sense of panic was most acute amongst the US citizens. “Almost 50 percent of the US tourists opted out of the morning boating ritual”, he informed.

However three young college-going US tourists – Erin Sasan, Jordana Stein and Rachael Klipp belie his fears. All from California, the young girls dressed in long skirts and chikan kurtas look very much home.

“The first thought that entered our head when we heard of the blasts was to call our folks back home to inform them that we are fine,” said Erin.

Jordana said, “This could have happened anywhere — in New York, London, Paris. So what is the point of panicking”.

What impressed the young women was the Indian sense of “bouncing back”. Yesterday, they had sensed a bit of insecurity amongst the people on the streets. “Today it seems as if nothing had happened” points out Rachael as they wave to a cycle rickshaw to take them to the ghats.


Blast victims’ agony continues
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Varanasi, March 8
Newly weds Surendra Aggarwal (48) from Siwan in Bihar and Manju Aggarwal (40) from Kathmandu lie next to each other in their respective beds. They had got married last evening at the Sankat Mochan Temple here but this is not their honeymoon suite. They occupy bed No 9 and 10 in the ENT ward of the Sir Sundar Lal (SSL) Hospital in Lanka attached to the Banaras Hindu University.

Theirs was one of the half a dozen odd marriages that were being solemnised in the front yard of the temple when the first blast occurred under the Pakri tree at 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Members of this marriage party suffered the maximum damage as the explosion left three persons, including the purohit and two close relatives, dead. Another 20 members of the family, including the bride and bridegroom, are admitted in the hospital.

Manju with beautiful henna patterns still freshly etched on her feet, informs us that her husband had vowed to get married in this temple and that was why they had come there for the ceremony. The marriage rituals were already over and the ‘‘bidai’’ ceremony was taking place when the blast occurred.

Her husband suffered bruises on nose and hand while she sustained injuries on her leg. Her father had to undergo an emergency stomach operation to remove pellets.

Belonging to a Marwari business family from Nepal, Manju told TNS that her parents, brother, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law were all admitted in various wards of the hospital. Boxes of sweets, fruits and other items could be seen lying next to her hospital bed.

Her brother-in-law Gobind Aggarwal, however, did not deny the possibility of the bomb being ‘placed’ somewhere in their belongings. “We were all so busy that I can’t say for sure. There was such a rush. I think at least 10,000 to 15,000 persons were present there at that time”.

Speaking to TNS Dr D.K. Singh, in-charge of the ICU at the SSL Hospital, said the injuries suffered by the victims revealed that the bomb was “big in size but extremely crude causing a low velocity blast scattering pellet-like material, probably nails and pieces of aluminum, over a very wide area. Such a bomb is capable of causing extensive injury in a crowded place like the Sankat Mochan Temple during ‘aarti’ time on a Tuesday”.

According to him injuries suffered by most of the 63 blast victims, brought to the hospital, had been caused due to the piercing of splinters, often in vital organs, causing instant death.

Eight patients in the ICU were in a critical condition; another nine had undergone emergency operations. Five bodies, including those of 18-month-old Shivangi Mishra and silk trader Manohar Lal Bhatonia, were still lying in the mortuary.

Pointing out that the stream of VIP visitors, who had been visiting the hospital since yesterday, had caused more trouble for his patients, Dr D.K Singh said his chief concern at the moment was to streamline the supply of blood and emergency medicines. “We are a UGC-run hospital with very limited funds. At the moment Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has assured the supply of emergency medicines but these will take some time to come.


2 LeT militants shot
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 8
Two Bangladesh-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants were gunned down in an encounter here this morning.

In the encounter, which took place at 5.45am at Holambi Kalan, Gulam Yazdani (28) and Ahsan Ullah Hassan were gunned down, said the Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell), Mr Karnal Singh.

The police recovered a huge quantity of lethal weapons from their possession. The weapons include one AK-56 with two magazines, 51 rounds of AK-56, four hand grenades, fake Indian currency worth Rs. 47,000 and two foreign-made pistols.

Gulam, who was from Hyderabad, had been wanted in several cases, said the Joint Commissioner.

Gulam, who studied up to matric in Bangladesh, completed his intermediate from Hyderabad in 1997. He got admission in the Deccan College of Engineering, Hyderabad.

He was an activist of the Students Islamic Movement of India and was reportedly running the Muslim Defence Force, a terrorist outfit, in the South.

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