Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Sunday, 27 July 2008 15:48 UK

India on alert as bombers sought

Police check a woman's bag in New Delhi 27 July
Police checks are being carried out at key sites across the country

Indian cities are on high alert as police hunt for those responsible for a series of blasts that killed at least 45 people in the city of Ahmedabad.

Security has been increased at markets, train stations, hospitals and airports.

India's leaders have appealed for calm. President Pratibha Patil urged people to remain "steadfast in this testing time and maintain peace and harmony".

Ahmedabad was the scene of sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims in early 2002 which left hundreds dead.

On Saturday, 17 blasts within an hour struck residential areas, market places, public transport and hospitals. A number of unexploded bombs have since been found.

It is thought the explosions were caused by crudely-made devices containing ball-bearings and other shrapnel, hidden in boxes and on bicycles.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Delhi says the attacks appear to have been highly co-ordinated. More than 100 people were wounded.


Aftermath of bomb explosion outside a hospital

House raided

Local media reports say a little-known Islamist group called the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility in an e-mail to a television channel.

Police have carried out a raid on a house near India's financial capital Mumbai (Bombay), where they believe the e-mail originated from.

Map of Ahmedabad

A similar e-mail was sent to news channels by the Indian Mujahideen group after blasts in the western city of Jaipur in May which killed more than 60 people.

The attack in Ahmedabad - Gujarat state's commercial capital - came a day after several devices went off in the southern city of Bangalore.

The government has deployed an extra 3,000 security personnel in Delhi, and other cities are on alert, including Mumbai and Jaipur.

Home Secretary Shivraj Patil said the priority was to enable the people of Gujarat and other states to get on with their lives as usual.

"Most important thing today... is to see that the peace and tranquillity in Gujarat is not disturbed, or peace and tranquillity in any part of the country is not disturbed," he said.

"The state governments have been taking steps to see that there are no mischiefs perpetrated by the people and nothing is done to disturb the peace and tranquillity."

The bombs in Ahmedabad were detonated with timers in two phases, the first at about 1830 (1300 GMT), officials said. The second series of explosions caught some victims and their helpers arriving at hospitals.

At least two unexploded bombs were later defused in Ahmedabad and sent for forensic examination.

Another two unexploded bombs were also found in the nearby city of Surat.

The BBC's Zubair Ahmed said he saw about 60 people - some in a serious condition - being treated in a large hall at one of the hospitals in Ahmedabad.

They were surrounded by family and friends, many of whom were angry, saying the bombers wanted to cause a rift between Hindus and Muslims.

A doctor said they had been treating bomb blast victims when there was an explosion outside the hospital, after which there was chaos.

He said the whole building shook and the road outside was covered in blood.

In a statement on her website, President Patil "expressed her heart-felt condolences for the loss of life and urged the people of Ahmedabad to remain steadfast in this testing time and maintain peace and harmony".

Appeal for calm

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also condemned the attacks, and urged people to remain calm and maintain communal harmony.

Wreckage outside a hospital in Ahmedabad
Hospitals treating the injured were also targeted in the attacks

Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat, said the "land of Mahatma Gandhi has been bloodied by terrorists whom we shall not spare".

"Terrorists are waging a war against India. We should be prepared for a long battle against terrorism," he warned.

Mr Modi has been accused of failing to protect Muslims in the riots in Gujarat during 2002 in which at least 1,000 people died, including many in Ahmedabad. The violence erupted when a fire broke out on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing at least 59 people.

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