India says investigating local, foreign leads to blast
PUNE, India (Reuters) - India's government said it had little idea who was behind a bomb in a tourist eatery in western India that killed nine people, with sources saying they were looking at the possible involvement of Islamist militants.
The bomb, left in a backpack under a table at the popular German Bakery in the city of Pune, also wounded 57 and was the country's first big attack since the 2008 Mumbai massacre and appeared to target both Indian and foreign tourists.
Six of the dead were Indians; the rest had not yet been identified, and there may be one foreigner among them, a senior police officer said. Ten foreigners were injured, including Iranians, Sudanese, Nepalis, a Taiwanese and a German.
Senior internal security sources, who declined to be named, said the focus had naturally fallen on Pakistan-based separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which has been blamed for the Mumbai attacks, and a local militant group called Indian Mujahideen because both had in the past been behind bombings in India.
"As of now our line of investigation is toward the possible involvement of LeT in the attack ... a sleeper module of the Indian Mujahideen could also be involved," a senior interior security official overseeing the probe, told Reuters.
Both groups have ties and are fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region.
"Nothing is ruled out, nothing is ruled in. The investigation is in progress," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.
German Bakery, located close to a Jewish center and a religious retreat frequented by foreigners, was a soft target in an area that had been on the radar of intelligence officials, Chidambaram said, denying there was an intelligence failure.
"There is no intelligence failure. This particular area has been on the radar for quite some time. But this was not an overt attack by a gunman, but an insidious attack with a bomb planted in a soft target," he told reporters in Pune.
The explosion came a day after India and Pakistan agreed to high-level talks in New Delhi on February 25, suspended after Pakistani militants killed 166 people during a three-day rampage through the financial capital of Mumbai in November 2008.
Any sign of Pakistani involvement in the Pune attack would worsen relations between the two nuclear rivals and further destabilize a region overshadowed by war in Afghanistan.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said India must "seriously re-consider" going ahead with the planned talks.
In response to a question on whether the proposed talks would now be suspended, Chidambaram said that was a diplomatic process that would be determined in Delhi after he returned there.
In the upscale neighborhood where German Bakery is located, morning walkers stayed away, and the area was deserted except for security personnel manning barricades and road blocks.
"I am numb. My daughter was in the bakery just 15 minutes before the blast. I can't imagine what might have happened," said Manasi Jadhav, who has a dental clinic above the bakery.
Police in Pune, located about 160 km (100 miles) south of Mumbai, had been alerted to the possibility of attacks on Osho ashram and Chabad House, which had also been targeted during the Mumbai attacks, Chidambaram said.
Chidambaram said the Pune ashram was one of the sites surveyed by David Headley, arrested in the United States last year and charged with scouting targets for the Mumbai rampage. India suspects Headley has links to the LeT.
The Pune blast also appears similar to a wave of bombs that hit Indian cities in the year before the Mumbai attacks, killing more than 100 people.
Police blamed most of those attacks on home-grown Muslim militants like the IM, but Hindu militants were also accused of masterminding some of the bombs.
"The bomb appears to have been not a sophisticated one that could have required any special training," said B. Raman, director of the Chennai-based Institute For Topical Studies.
"The expertise involved could have been locally acquired. One must control the reflex to point an accusing finger at Pakistan."
Authorities have warned of renewed threats of attacks on Indian soil and stepped up security in recent months.
Airports and railway stations across the country have been put on high alert after the blast and extra security given to the South African and Indian cricket teams playing in India.
"It feels really strange: the German Bakery was my favorite meeting point with friends. But eventually, this happens everywhere in the world now. Where can you run?" said Mabel Ng, a tourist visiting from Hong Kong.
(Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar)