CHANDIGARH/NEW DELHI, 16 October 2007 — Police say they suspect Muslim militants allied with Punjab separatists were behind a blast that killed six people and injured 32 at a crowded cinema hall in Ludhiana, while labeling it a ‘terrorist’ bombing.
“We are trying to find out the exact nature of explosives used,” a senior state police official said. Though the Home Ministry in Delhi too suspects the blast at the cinema hall to be a terrorist act, it maintained that it was still “too early” to draw any conclusions. The possible link between Sikh separatists and Muslim extremists has not been ruled out.
With Punjab witnessing a terrorist attack after a gap of seven years, there is suspicion that this could symbolize a revival of terrorists’ designs here. The last terror act occurred on Oct. 26, 2000, on the Bhathinda-Rewari passenger train in which two persons were killed and 34 injured.
Dismissing the revival of the Sikh rebel movement, Punjab Chief Minster Prakash Singh Badal said: “People will not allow the hard-earned peace to unravel. The people of Punjab have no sympathy with terrorists as they have gone through terrible days... There is no chance of revival of terrorism,” he said.
Badal visited the injured at various hospitals in Ludhiana and strongly condemned the act of anti-national forces to disturb peace and harmony in the state. He also announced ex-gratia grant of Rs.200,000 for the next of kin of those killed in the blast.
The multiplex Shingar Cinema, where the movie “Janam Janam Ke Saath” was being screened, was packed with about 600 people at the time of the blast on Sunday. With it being Eid, hundreds of people, mainly poor migrant workers, were crammed into this cinema hall for the show, which started at 7 p.m. Police say plastic explosives were used in the bomb.
“The leads into the blast indicated Muslim fundamentalists could have collaborated with Babbar Khalsa International and Khalistan Commando Force (both Punjabi militant groups) to plant the bomb,” senior police intelligence officer Jagdish Mittal told reporters in Ludhiana.
Security forces have increased vigil in areas like multiplexes, and railway and bus stations since the attack. Indian intelligence agencies also say Islamist militant groups, backed by Pakistani spy agency ISI, increasingly target Muslim and Hindu religious places to trigger communal clashes between the two communities.
Though Punjab police chief N.P.S. Aulakh suspects the involvement of Sikh rebel group, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), former Punjab police chief Kanwar Pal Singh Gill does not rule out the role of Sikh group called Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) in Sunday’s incident. Both the groups, according to a security website run by Gill, are “chiefly supported by Pakistan and some nonresident Indian Sikh groups.”
Declining to make any categorical statement on who could be responsible for Ludhiana-blast, union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta said: “I do not want to prejudge anything.” He laid stress that owners of cinema halls and shopping complexes must contribute to ensuring security at these places.
“People and owners of various shopping complexes and cinema halls should ensure an in-house mechanism to keep a constant vigil against those who wanted to perpetrate terrorism,” Gupta said.
The left bloc strongly condemned the Ludhiana-blast and asked the government to gear up intelligence and security agencies to uncover internal and external links of terrorist groups functioning within the country. With it being “not sufficient” to track down culprits after such attacks, the politburo of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said: “It is more important to identify and uncover the terrorist groups and networks operating within the country and their links abroad.”
As the Punjab police, security agencies and forensic experts yesterday tried to gather shreds of evidence, it has become clear that those targeted were migrant laborers and workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states.
A Bhojpuri film was being screened at the time and the movie had restarted after the interval. Those behind the blasts carefully targeted the theater that was regularly showing Bhojpuri films for the migrant population.
Punjab police officials investigating the blast said they were working on all theories, including a possible link to Kashmiri terrorist outfits and BKI. The Punjab police are also probing the recent conviction and awarding of death penalty to Babbar Khalsa terrorist Jagtar Singh Hawara and others in the Beant Singh assassination case by a court in Chandigarh.
“A forensic team from the National Security Guards has also arrived. We are working on various theories,” said Jalandhar range Inspector General Sanjiv Kalra.
— With input from agencies