AN Islamist militant group has claimed responsibility for a powerful blast outside New Delhi’s High Court that killed at least 11 people and wounded 65 yesterday as close to 200 petitioners queued outside the gates for entry passes to the complex.
The improvised explosive device, made of ammonium nitrate and concealed in a briefcase, appeared calculated to cause maximum damage outside the busy Gate 5 where would-be petitioners line up each Wednesday to lodge public interest litigation claims.
It is the second attack on the High Court complex in four months and the most serious terror strike on an Indian city since a series of co-ordinated blasts in three Mumbai neighbourhoods killed 20 people in July.
Eyewitnesses told of chaos and panic as lawyers and petitioners scrambled to flee the scene and the dead and injured lay among blood and debris.
Outside the RML hospital’s emergency ward, where most of the wounded were taken, a man on a gurney covered in the blood of his son told The Australian he was at the front of the queue when the bomb went off not 10m away. “A huge bang happened and there was smoke everywhere. I was still standing but when I looked around, I saw people and body parts scattered everywhere,” Liaquat Ali, 51, said.
“My youngest son was lying on the ground bleeding badly from his left side. Now he is being operated on.”
Only minimal damage was caused in May when a concealed bomb outside the court failed to detonate, but yesterday’s blast has again raised questions about the ability of India’s security forces to protect its citizens from terror following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in which police and intelligence agencies were exposed as woefully under-resourced and under-trained.
SC Sinha, director general of the National Investigation Agency, said Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, which has been linked to previous attacks on Indian soil, had claimed responsibility for the attack in an email.
Police last night issued sketches of two suspects, aged about 50 and 26, based on information gathered from witnesses.
Local media reported yesterday that police had failed to act on advice after the May bombing to heighten security around the High Court and install surveillance cameras. Several local lawyers at the court also claimed that the metal detector and bodyscanner at the gate had not been working.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram confirmed the bomb was a terror strike and issued a security alert for Delhi and Mumbai.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the attack from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and vowed India would “never succumb to the pressure of terrorism”.
Both men vowed to bring the bombers to justice.
Such assurances are ringing increasingly hollow, with no arrests made in last month’s Mumbai blast, the May High Court blast, last December’s bombing in Varanasi or the Pune bakery blast in February last year in which 10 people were killed and dozens wounded.
The former counter-terrorism chief of Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing, Bahukutumbi Raman, said the latest attack demonstrated another failure of security agencies, purportedly vastly improved after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 170 people were killed.
“There was smoke everywhere. People were running. People were shouting. There was blood everywhere. It was very, very scary,” said lawyer Sangeeta Sondhi, who was parking her car near the gate when the bomb exploded.