Death Toll Hits 42 in India Bomb Blasts, Islamic Extremists May Be Responsible

Foreign Islamic extremists may have been behind a pair of bombings that tore through a popular restaurant and a park in a southern Indian city, killing at least 42 people, an official said Sunday.

Saturday's attacks in Hyderabad were the latest in a series of bombings to hit India in the last year, nearly all of which have been blamed on Islamic extremists with foreign connections — even when Muslims were targeted.

"Available information points to the involvement of terrorist organizations based in Bangladesh and Pakistan," Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, where Hyderabad is located, told reporters after an emergency state Cabinet meeting.

Indian federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the country was virtually helpless in the face of terror attacks.

"We have to take timely action on the basis of information received. But our country is so big that even if we have the information that something is planned we do not know where or when," he said.

Hyderabad police commissioner Balwinder Singh said investigators had some clues as to the identity of the bombers but declined to give further details.

"The investigation is progressing in the right direction," but no arrests have been made, he said.

Reddy did not identify any groups, but Indian media reports, quoting unnamed security officials, named the Bangladesh-based Harkatul Jihad Al-Islami organization.

Reddy declined to provide more details. "It is not possible to divulge all this information," he said.

Harkatul, which is banned in Bangladesh, wants to establish strict Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority nation governed by secular laws.

Bangladesh's Foreign Ministry said Dhaka had not been informed of the allegations.

Other recent bombings in India have been blamed on Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, or Army of the Pure, one of more than a dozen Islamic insurgent groups fighting to oust India from Muslim-majority Kashmir. Pakistan has denied charges of training and supporting the militants.

Kashmir is divided between predominantly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, with both claiming it in its entirety. The rebels want Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan.

Indian authorities say Harkatul was also behind the bombing of a historic Hyderabad mosque in May that killed 11 people, although little evidence has been made public. But many Muslims say Hindu extremists were to blame.

Following that attack, five people were killed in clashes between security forces and Muslim protesters, angered by what they said was a lack of police protection.

Hyderabad has a history of Hindu-Muslim violence, and Reddy praised residents for their restraint in the wake of Saturday's attacks.

Both the restaurant and the park were popular with Hindus and Muslims.

The restaurant was destroyed by the bomb placed at the entrance, and most of the deaths reportedly occurred in the blast. Blood-covered tin plates and broken glass littered the road outside.

The other blast struck a laser show at an auditorium in Lumbini park, leaving pools of blood and dead bodies between rows of seats punctured by shrapnel. Some seats were hurled 30 meters (100 feet) away.

By Sunday morning, the death toll had risen to 42 as victims succumbed to injuries sustained in the attacks, said K. Jana Reddy, the state home minister. Some 50 people were wounded in the two blasts.

Two other bombs were defused in the city Saturday, one under a footbridge in the busy Bilsukh Nagar commercial area, and the other in a movie theater in the Narayanguba neighborhood, a police official said. Late-night movie showings were canceled across the city.

More than 80 percent of India's 1.1 billion people are Hindu and 13 percent are Muslim. But in Hyderabad, Muslims make up 40 percent of the population of 7 million.

Little progress has been made in the investigation into the May mosque bombing. Underlying the divide, Muslim leaders have said they do not trust local police to handle the probe.

A series of terrorist bombings have ripped across India in the past two years. In July 2006, bombs in seven Mumbai commuter trains killed more than 200 people, attacks blamed on Pakistan-based Muslim militants.