By Bappa Majumdar
NEW DELHI, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Indian police were set to release on Tuesday sketches of key suspects in weekend bombings that killed 22 people, but Muslims said they planned to protest because they were being unfairly targeted in a police manhunt. Police have already named two Muslim suspects and were almost ready with sketches of at least two other men they said had placed explosives in busy market places and streets in India’s capital on Saturday.
The Indian Mujahideen militant group, which says it is avenging atrocities against Muslims in India and claimed several major attacks in recent months, said it was responsible.
"The sketches were drawn with information from witnesses who saw these men either move suspiciously or place suspect-looking bags," police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said.
Minority Muslims told Reuters in several Muslim-dominated areas of New Delhi that police were conducting a "witch hunt" and accused authorities of reinforcing stereotypes about Muslims.
"Terrorists do not belong to any religion," said Feroze Alam, a young trader in New Delhi’s Daryaganj district.
"They should be hanged. Why don’t the police realise this and stop persecuting Muslims alone?"
Some 20 Muslim organisations plan to meet in New Delhi next month to work a strategy to counter those stereotypes.
"It is time to unite and protest against these attempts to harass Muslim youths and brand them as terrorists," Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric of Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, told Reuters.
Bukhari met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week. Singh said after deadly 2006 train bombs in the western city of Mumbai that alienation of Muslims would only make matters worse.
"After every blast case, they have dragged innocent young men from their homes, and this has not stopped despite repeated requests," Bukhari said.
"It is high time we put an end to this persecution."
Police spokesman Bhagat denied police discriminated against Muslims. "We don’t look at a suspect’s religion. We work on positive leads," he said.
Muslims make up around 13 percent of mainly Hindu India’s 1.1 billion population.
Official figures show Muslims lag behind in literacy, face discrimination in jobs, are rarely recruited in India’s spy agency, and are under-represented in its armed forces. Muslim women also often complain of discrimination and hostility.
"All this is leading to a lot of bitterness," said Sheikh Manzoor Ahmed, editor of an Indian Urdu news agency.
"Why don’t police take Muslim youths into confidence while investigating terrorist attacks?"
New Delhi has long blamed Pakistan for fomenting trouble inside India, mostly in the disputed northern region of Kashmir, but more recently has said some of the violence may have been perpetrated by home-grown groups. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Paul Tait)