VARANASI, India – Security forces deployed to holy sites across India on Wednesday after terrorist bombings killed 20 people in Hinduism's holiest city, sparking anger among its residents and worry about possible widespread sectarian violence.
A mob of angry Hindus briefly blocked the motorcade of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, when he visited the scene of Tuesday's bombings at a crowded railway station and temple in the northern city of Varanasi on the holy Ganges River.
Yadav, whose party champions the cause of Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, inspected the site under heavy protection while protesters shouted slogans against him.
Varanasi, meanwhile, was largely shut down by a strike called by Hindu nationalist groups to protest the bombings. Markets and schools were closed and vehicles kept off the roads, but there were no signs of violence in reaction to the attacks.
"There is peace now but what happened yesterday is horrible," grocer Jugal Kishore Chaurasiya said. "There is fear but I am proud that even after this act of terrorism there has been amity between the two sides. We are trying to maintain peace."
At least two blasts went off Tuesday evening at Varanasi's train station, and another blast shook a temple on the banks of the Ganges, where millions of pilgrims gather annually for ritual bathing and prayers. Police said they found other unexploded bombs elsewhere in the city.
At least 10 people died in the explosions at the train station, and five were killed in the blast at the temple, said Alok Sinha, the top home ministry official of Uttar Pradesh state. Five people died overnight in hospitals, local superintendent of police Paresh Pandey said.
He said 58 people were hospitalized, 35 of them in serious condition.
"It is a terrorist attack. It has all the characteristics of a terrorist attack," Sinha told The Associated Press. "We are not sure about the group involved."
Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the temple bomb was placed in a pressure cooker and detonated by a timing device.
Yashpal Singh, the Uttar Pradesh police chief, said the attackers targeted the temple on a day when special prayers are held to cause maximum damage.
"The bomb was placed near a tree where women usually sit and take rest," Singh said. "Moreover, a wedding was just over when the blast took place. Had the blast taken place a few minutes earlier, the toll could have been more."
Cities across India were on high alert Wednesday, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm.
Investigators and sketch artists were interviewing a young man who may have seen the bombers. Two men came to the young man's shop in Varanasi's Gaudaliya market and left a bag there promising to return later.
When they did not return, he called the police, who notified the bomb squad. They defused the bomb inside the bag, a federal intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media.
Officials said Tuesday a bomb defused at the market was in a pressure cooker.
Soldiers and police were sent to guard prominent religious pilgrimage spots across this country of 1 billion people, which is about 84 percent Hindu but also has a sizable Muslim minority and millions of followers of many other religions.
Although officials have not yet said who they believed was behind Tuesday's attacks, many in India clearly suspected Muslim extremists.
Hours after the bombings, the Uttar Pradesh state anti-terrorist squad said it had killed a suspected Islamic militant, but Pandey said it was not known whether he was linked to the bombings.
In the capital, New Delhi, police also shot two suspected militants as they were entering the city in a car early Wednesday, said Karnal Singh, joint commissioner of police. It was also unclear if they were tied to the Varanasi attacks.
L. K. Advani, leader of the opposition in India's Parliament, said he told President Bush during his visit to India last week that terrorism continued to be a problem.
"People of India will not feel assured until the terrorist infrastructure across the border (in Pakistan) is fully dismantled," Advani said.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry denied Advani's charge.
"There is no infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. This is a baseless allegation," ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
The attacks came only days after Hindus and Muslims fought street battles in two neighborhoods in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, leaving four people dead. The next day, angry Hindus looted Muslim shops and burned vehicles in the coastal resort of Goa in a dispute over a mosque demolition.
Home Secretary V.K. Duggal said Tuesday's blasts were similar to Oct. 29 bombings in New Delhi that killed 60 people. Like those blasts, blamed on Islamic militants fighting to wrest predominantly Muslim Kashmir from India, the Varanasi explosions occurred within 10 minutes of each other, Duggal said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Varanasi, 450 miles east of Delhi, is Hinduism's holiest city and ordinarily is filled with pilgrims visiting temples and bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges, which runs through the city. It also is a popular spot with foreign tourists.