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Worst-Ever Terrorist Attack in India's Northeast Targets Assam བོད་སྐད།

  • Steve Herman

Serial bomb blasts have rocked the Indian state, Assam, with most of the explosions taking place in crowded markets. India's government confirms 12 separate blasts, with police saying around 61 people have died and several hundred have been wounded. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital, New Delhi.

Coordinated explosions rocked crowded outdoor food markets throughout Assam within a short period just before midday Thursday.

One of the injured survivors, S.K. Dutta, told News Live television in Guwahati he was on his way to buy vegetables when he was hit by one of the blasts.

Dutta, speaking with his nose bandaged, says after the explosion, panicking shoppers and merchants ran away as fires broke out.

At least five of the blasts took place in Guwahati, the state's population center - where, as the smoke cleared and the extent of the devastation became evident - mobs turned on police and rescue workers.

Government vehicles and ambulances were pelted with stones and overturned. Fire trucks were also attacked by those apparently angry with the belated arrival on the scene by authorities. The mob scenes prompted authorities to clamp a curfew on parts of the city.

Although Assam has been beset by separatist violence for decades, the serial bomb blasts are regarded as the worst terrorist attack in memory to strike India's multi-ethnic northeast.

One of the explosions took place only a few-hundred meters from the building housing the state's top elected officials.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to condemn the attacks, blaming "divisive powers" who want to break up the country. He is calling for a united effort by the people of India to fight terrorism.

Indian Home Affairs Minister of State Shakeel Ahmad tells reporters it is premature to single out any responsible entity, noting recent bombings in many parts of the country have been blamed on various groups.

Ahmad says these were high-intensity explosions and that it will take some time for investigators to learn all the details. He contends there was no intelligence failure in anticipating such an unprecedented attack.

India's top opposition leader, L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party, blames the governing alliance, led by the Congress Party, for failing to prevent a series of terrorist bomb blasts this year in the country.

Advani says illegal migrants from Bangladesh and their masters are likely responsible for the attacks in Assam.

Others direct suspicion on the state's most infamous militant separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom, known as ULFA. But it had been believed ULFA was seriously weakened after recent counter-insurgency operations by India's military.

The CNN-IBN network quotes ULFA, labeled a terrorist group by India's government, as denying responsibility for the blasts.

Assam, with a population of 26 million and an agrarian economy, is best known for tea and silk. But the eastern Himalayan state is beset by poverty and competition between migrants, including those from Bangladesh, and local people. It has been wracked by separatist violence for decades.

Last month, clashes in Assam between indigenous tribes and Muslim settlers left nearly 50 people dead. Two other northeastern states were hit by bomb blasts in the past month.

Since India's independence in 1947, tens of thousands have died in separatist violence throughout the northeast.

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