14 Apr 2006 17:04:25 GMT, Source: Reuters, By Himangshu Watts
NEW DELHI, April 14 (Reuters) – Two small bombs exploded in the largest mosque in India just after Friday prayers, wounding at least 10 people, police said.
After the blasts in an historic part of the Indian capital New Delhi, the government and religious leaders appealed for calm in the officially secular country, where Hindus make up more than 80 percent of the population and Muslims almost 12.
Hundreds of police, some armed with batons and shields, rushed to the Jama Masjid mosque to control angry crowds.
"I heard a loud noise. Some people had fallen down and were bleeding and others were running away in panic," said witness Mukhtar Jawahar.
Police Commissioner K.K. Paul told reporters outside the mosque: "There was an explosion at 5:20 p.m. (1150 GMT). After seven to eight minutes there was another small explosion. It was a low intensity improvised device."
Officials said they had not received any calls from any group claiming responsibility for the explosions.
Authorities in several Indian states were put on alert after the Delhi explosions and seven grenade attacks in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, in which five people were killed.
About 40 people were wounded in the Srinagar attacks on a day during which devout Muslims offered special prayers at Kashmir’s holiest shrine, Hazratbal, to mark the anniversary of Prophet Mohammad’s birth.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since a Muslim revolt against India’s rule over Kashmir erupted in 1989.
But violence has declined in the region since India and Pakistan launched a peace process more than two years ago to resolve their dispute over Kashmir, which both South Asian neighbours lay claim to.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil called for calm after the Delhi blasts.
"The Jama Masjid structure has not been damaged. Nobody has lost his life. Thank God," said Patil.
Mosque spokesman Yahya Bukhari told Star News television: "I would request all Muslims not to panic."
The mosque, built in the 17th century, is situated in an old, crowded part of the city near the historic Red Fort.
A large crowd gathered near the main gate of the mosque and shouted slogans against the police.
Police initially cordoned off the area and searched for more possible explosives, but Muslims were allowed back into the mosque for evening prayers less than an hour and a half after the blasts.
The NDTV television channel said police believed explosives were placed in plastic bags, but Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor B.L. Joshi told reporters he could not confirm this.
In October, three powerful bombs ripped through packed markets in Delhi before the biggest Hindu and Muslim festivals, killing at least 66 people and wounding more than 100. (Additional reporting by N. Ananthanarayanan, Palash Kumar, Amitabh Sinha, and Kamil Zaheer)