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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Indian town seething with anger
Mohammed Anees, 25, sits on a hospital bed recuperating from his injuries.
The attack came on a day that is sacred for Muslims

The BBC's Zubair Ahmed visits the town of Malegaon in India a day after it was hit by bomb attacks to find residents seething with anger.

"What goes around comes around," said a local police officer.

The tongue-in-cheek remark was meant to be an off-the-record comment.

But that just summed up the reputation of Malegaon, a dusty town of 700,000 people, two-thirds of them Muslims, in the eyes of officials, who often brand it as a hotbed of support for home-grown as well international Islamic militant organisations.

Indeed its reputation was not helped when a large cache of arms and ammunition was seized from men who were born and raised here a few weeks before the Mumbai bomb blasts two months ago.

The town, home to a large number of Muslim weavers, has been officially declared sensitive by the Maharashtra state police chief, P.S. Pasricha.

But this is a tag vehemently resented by local Muslims.

A local weaver Nayeemuddin said: "If we were volatile, there would have been retaliation by us. But we have been very peaceful, despite a heavy loss of lives."

Roaming anger

But some of them did turn violent. When the two bombs went off in the town soon after Friday prayers, they expressed their resentment by attacking policemen and their vehicles soon after the bomb blasts.

Malegaon has always been accused of harbouring Islamic terrorists - now tell me, why would we be attacked on a day which is so pious in Islam?
Manzoor Ilahi
Malegaon resident

Just before I reached Malegaon, I was told that many parts of the town were under a curfew.

I arrived just before midnight, wondering who on earth would be awake to talk to me around that time. I also imagined the town would look deserted because of the curfew.

But to my astonishment there were more people on the roads than on a normal day.

Regardless of the curfew, men dressed in traditional Muslim attire were roaming the streets, wondering why their town was attacked by militants.

Hundreds of men were trying to escort journalists to the scenes of bombings. Many of them sounded really shaken.

Manzoor Ilahi was fuming. "Malegaon has always been accused of harbouring Islamic terrorists. Now tell me, why would we be attacked on a day which is so pious in Islam?"

Dozens of people joined him in support.

A man from the crowd summed up the general feelings: "The day and time were carefully chosen to maximise the casualty. It could not have been done by Islamic terrorists."

One-upmanship

Maharashtra state's deputy chief minister, R.R. Patil, in an interview with the BBC, praised the overall patience displayed by local Muslims.

He also said he disapproved of the "sensitive" tag.

Mr Patil, who was the first high-ranking minister to rush to Malegaon, said it was still unclear who could have triggered these bombs.

Muslims stand outside the Hameediya Mosque, the scene of bomb explosions in Malegaon
Malegaon residents supported the Taleban
But he had a view on the possible motive of the attackers:

"The time and place of attack suggest the bombings were carried out to create tensions between Hindus and Muslims."

However, he was unable to throw light on the possible link between the serial bomb blasts on commuter trains in Mumbai in which more than 180 people were killed and the latest bombings in Malegaon.

Just a few days before the latest blasts, India's prime minister had warned a meeting of all state chief ministers that more attacks were imminent.

Should Mr Patil accept a lapse on the part of his administration?

His candid answer was that the attackers successfully played the game of one-upmanship.

"We had made appropriate security arrangements for the graveyard, where Muslims had to visit on the night. The arrangements were to take effect from 1700. But terrorists surprised us by exploding bombs soon after Friday prayers in the early afternoon."

But he added that watertight security was impossible.

"Despite heavy security arrangements in New York and London, they were attacked. Yes, we have to be on our toes, but 100% security cannot be guaranteed."

Taleban town

But residents were not impressed by the police intelligence-gathering network.

If a needle is pierced in any part of your body the whole body hurts, doesn't it? The Muslims all over the world are like a human body
Mohammed Irfan
Malegaon resident

Drug store owner Sheikh Rashid said the police should have enough information on militant activity because the city has been under surveillance since some local men were arrested a few months ago.

Imran Ansari, meanwhile, is angry.

He lost his brother and two young nephews in the bomb attacks.

The trio had gone to the mosque to offer Friday prayers, but never returned.

"We are looked at suspiciously by the police. But has any Hindu been killed by Muslims here, ever? Has there been any communal riot between Hindus and Muslims in recent times?" he asked.

It is unfair to treat townspeople as supporters of Islamic militancy, he says.

It was this nondescript town five years ago that had witnessed a large scale protest over the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Police killed 12 Muslim protesters after a brief altercation with them.

The Taleban government had enjoyed immense support in Malegaon.

But why do they react to the attacks on Muslim countries?

Mohammed Irfan, a member of a large crowd around me, answered:

"If a needle is pierced in any part of your body the whole body hurts, doesn't it? The Muslims all over the world are like a human body."

But does it hurt to see no Muslim country came out to condemn the latest attacks on them?

"It's their problem. We do our duty... It's an obligation by Islam to support Muslims and we do our Islamic duty."

And perhaps this is the mindset that worries the establishment the most.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: India blasts
08 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
Eyewitness: Blast carnage in Malegaon
08 Sep 06 |  South Asia
Indian town tense after protest
29 Oct 01 |  South Asia
Anti-US protesters killed in India
27 Oct 01 |  South Asia

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