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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
Security doubts after Ayodhya attack

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Ayodhya

Wreckage of the jeep
The wreckage of the jeep
Hours after a group of unidentified gunmen attacked India's most famous disputed religious site at Ayodhya, on a cloudy monsoon morning, a semblance of normality has returned.

Only when you reach the check posts leading to the disputed religious site, where Hindu fanatics destroyed a mosque in 1992 triggering nationwide riots, do you notice skittish policemen asking for identification papers from the media scrum that descended on the town again after news of Tuesday's attack emerged.

But when you come across the burnt out carcass of the jeep used by the attackers on a narrow lane skirting 80 acres of the disputed site you realise how much devastation the attack could have wreaked on innocent human lives.

For eight hours every day the disputed site sees a steady stream of pilgrims coming to worship the idol of Lord Rama, one of the most revered Hindu deities.

BK Mishra, who belongs to a trust which runs the temple at the site, says that over 1,000 pilgrims flock to the place under tight security every day.

This Tuesday morning, when the gunmen blasted through the yellow painted metal fence by blowing up a jeep filled with explosives, there were some 200 pilgrims inside, according to eyewitnesses.

Mr Mishra says he walked by the place where the jeep blew up some 15 minutes ago before it exploded.

"I was in my office when I heard a big bang. When I walked out the police had barricaded the place and were firing on the intruders. There were not too many people in the lane and they had fled in panic.

"Imagine what could have happened if the road was crowded."

Pride in security

Another eyewitness, Ram Prasad Mishra, said he heard an explosion and saw some men rushing into the site with bags.

The ensuing hour-long gun battle left six suspected attackers dead and two pilgrims and four policemen wounded, the police said.

Hindu priest Mahant Gyandas
Mahant Gyandas says extremists have destroyed the place

Later a contingent of police moved to the nearby city of Faizabad to brief the media on their achievements.

They were proud of the fact that the militants had not been able to reach the sacrosanct 2.77 acres of the main disputed site - another fenced area which contains the idols of Lord Rama - or the fabled "red zone" that is under the charge of a special security force.

All the fighting, officials said, happened in the "yellow zone" outside. The attackers were successfully hunted out and felled as the few terrified pilgrims inside lay on the ground.

"The attackers came within 100 metres of the main disputed area. But they could not enter it," says senior police official Narendra Bahadur Singh.

Now all that the police have is the destroyed jeep, the bodies of the attackers - "fair complexioned, and well dressed," says Mr Singh - and the driver of the jeep which they hired from Faizabad.

The attackers apparently rented the jeep, stacked it with explosives and tricked their way past security. When they arrived near the site, they told the driver to beat it and then triggered the explosion by remote control, the police say.

'Serious concerns'

What people in Ayodhya are most interested in knowing is how a jeep full of explosives and militants could have got through the checkpoints that guard the city of Ayodhya since the 1992 riots.

"There are serious concerns about security in this place. The check posts have become lax and complacent. It is a massive security failure," says BK Mishra.

Repairing the fence
Repairing the fence after Tuesday's attack

State officials of the local Uttar Pradesh government echo the same sentiment. But they have few ideas on how they are going to improve safety. There are at least half a dozen lanes leading to the site, which complicates matters.

In this congested town of some 10,000 temples conspiracy theorists are never in shortage.

As dusk falls on the most eventful day in this unfortunate city in the last decade welders are hard at work mending the breached fence.

The discussions in the smoky tea shops and bright sweet stores centre around who might have been responsible for the attack.

An ochre-robed Hindu mendicant with a flowing beard takes me aside and whispers that he knows where the attackers "stayed last night before committing this atrocity. It was the house of a local Muslim tailor. You go and investigate, I haven't told the police about it."

Others blame Pakistan, still others says it is the work of militants outside Ayodhya "where Hindus and Muslims live in peace".

'Testing nerves'

As I make my way back to the site in the evening past the lush farms, cold stores, brick kilns, private tutorial homes, bustling bazaars and serpentine lanes that smell of flowers and sweets, the police at the checkpoints seem to be relaxing again.

I make my way to the home of Mahant Gyandas, one of the most revered and senior Hindu priests in this town, who heads a major temple.

Sitting in a dimly-lit courtyard overlooking his temple and surrounded by carbine-toting, tense-looking policemen, Mahant Gyandas tells me the attack is the result of "communalisation of Ayodhya" by Hindu extremists.

"The extremists have spoilt this place, they have made it a flashpoint to test each other's nerves," he sighs, offering me some sacred sweets.

It is not the first time an attack has been planned on this holy town. A bomb was found inside a pressure cooker, of all places, near Mahant Gyandas' temple five years ago - another was found on the railway tracks near Faizabad some years ago.

"We can only thank God that innocent people did not lose lives [in the latest attack]," Mahant Gyandas says. "The day the extremists destroyed the mosque, Ayodhya was never the same again. And it will never be."

See the aftermath of the attack


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