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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
Gunmen storm Hindu temple
Indian security forces besiege the temple complex
Gunfire can be heard from inside the complex
Unidentified gunmen have killed at least 23 people after storming a Hindu temple in India's western Gujarat state, the authorities say.

Map showing Gandhinagar
Many more have been injured in the attack, which took place at the Swaminarayan Temple in the state capital, Gandhinagar, as hundreds of worshippers prayed inside.

Troops are now besieging the complex, and gunfire and explosions can be heard.

Gujarat was hit by India's worst religious bloodshed in a decade in February and March this year, and the authorities are now appealing for calm.

Home Minister LK Advani told journalists in the Indian capital, Delhi, that the victims of the temple attack included 13 men, six women and four children.

Twenty-three people are dead - the terrorists are still inside

LK Advani,
Deputy PM
He appealed for Hindus and Muslim not to resort to violence.

"I hope people will understand that communal conflict would serve the interest of those who do this," he said.

He said the gunmen were still inside the complex. It is not known who they are.

It is feared that dozens of people may still be trapped.


Officials say the shooting started when three men entered the temple and started firing indiscriminately at worshippers with assault rifles.

"I heard a loud noise and gunshots. I didn't know what was happening," one man said, after escaping with his two children.

"There were about 600 people at the time of the attack. Thank God I am alive."

Akshardham temple, Gandhinagar
Hundreds of people were inside the temple complex

The BBC's Jill McGivering, from outside the ornate sandstone complex, described a chaotic situation with emergency vehicles standing by and crowds of local people waiting for news.

Mr Advani said 500 people had been evacuated from the temple.

One volunteer, his clothes stained with blood, said he had personally brought out about 20 casualties, although he was not sure how many of them were dead.

Gujarat witnessed widespread religious violence earlier this year when Muslim mobs were accused of setting a train carrying Hindu activists on fire.

More than 1,000 people - mainly Muslims - were killed in the ensuing rioting. Some estimates put the figure as high as 2,000.

International tension

India's ruling party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, said the attack could have been carried out by "Pakistan-supported" terrorists.

Pakistan condemned the attack, and denied any role in it. A government minister blamed the BJP for failing to build a tolerant society in Gujarat.

Tarun Patel, spokesman for the Shri Swaminarayan temple, in Neasden, north London, which has strong connections with the Gandhinagar temple, said they had been unable to get much information from the scene because of problems with the telephone connection.

"Obviously our concern is for the people inside the complex, and the best thing we can do at the moment is to pray for a peaceful conclusion," he said.

The Swaminarayan organisation, part of the Hindu faith, was formally established in 1907.

It preaches religious tolerance and practical spirituality.

Around two million people visit the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar every year.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"The uncertainty now is whether local politicians would exploit the violence"
Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state



See also:

17 Sep 02 | South Asia
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