New Delhi : Nine near-coordinated explosions shook the serenity of the world-renowned Mahabodhi temple complex in Bihar’s Bodh Gaya early Sunday, injuring two monks but not causing much damage. The government termed it a terror attack as an NIA team began its probe.
President Pranab Mukherjee described the serial blasts as a “senseless act of violence” while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said “such attacks on religious places will never be tolerated”.
The union home ministry also sent an advisory to states asking them to step up security in the wake of the blasts at the Unesco World Heritage site, while security of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was also reviewed.
Nine blasts took place between 5.30 a.m. and 6 a.m. at the 1,500-year-old Mahabodhi temple, annually visited by millions of pilgrims from all over the world, especially from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the Southeast Asia region.
The deafening explosions triggered panic, but caused no major damage.
The impact of the explosions rattled the nearby hotels, sending the tourists and pilgrims run outdoors in panic.
“All the people, foreigners and tourists, came out wondering what had happened,” said a local resident.
The temple complex has direct association with the Buddha (566-486 BC) as it was the place where he is believed to have attained enlightenment in 531 BC while seated under the Bodhi tree. Bodh Gaya is about 110 km from Patna.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, in New Delhi, said four of nine bombs went off in the temple complex, three in a monastery nearby, one near the statue of the Buddha, and another near a tourist bus.
Bihar Police chief Abhayanand, who went to the site during the day, said the blasts were not of “very high intensity” and, therefore, no damage was caused to the sanctum sanctorum.
Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami also confirmed that the temple complex has not suffered any damage. “The monastery and the statue of Lord Buddha are safe.”
Additional Director General of Police S.K. Bhardwaj told IANS that two Buddhist monks were injured — Tibetan Tenzing Dorjee, 50, and the other, a Myanmarese national named Vilas Ga, 30.
Union Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh termed it a terror attack, while strategic analyst C. Uday Bhaskar told IANS that there is “little doubt that as per the classical evaluation of terror attacks – the multiple blasts at Bodh Gaya will qualify as a definitive terror attack”.
A National Investigation Agency (NIA) team reached Bodh Gaya in the evening even as some Buddhist monks offered prayers at the temple.
“Only Buddhist monks were allowed in to offer prayers as usual. The government has decided not to discontinue the regular prayers and worship by monks in the temple,” said Abhayanand.
He said the temple would open for pilgrims and tourists Monday morning.
A team of Delhi Police is likely to visit Bodh Gaya to share information provided by arrested Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists on the temple attack.
A senior Delhi Police officer told IANS that they had alerted intelligence agencies and Bihar Police about a possible terror attack in the state. The IM operatives had revealed they had spent 15 days doing a recce of the temple.
An unseemly political war broke out over the terror attack with the Bharatiya Janata Party, close allies of the Janata Dal-United government in Bihar till only two weeks ago, attacking the Nitish Kumar government over law and order.
“The state government had been told about recce that had been conducted by terror elements of the place, especially in context of the violence in Myanmar,” said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad
“There were warnings, but no preventive action was taken … Why,” he asked.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was, however, quick to refute allegations about his government having ignored intelligence inputs.
“There are CCTV cameras at the Mahabodhi temple… We have had a close look at the security of the temple earlier too… But the way these people entered and even were successful in planting bombs, we have to analyse in what dress they entered the temple and even examine the security at the gates,” the chief minister told reporters after visiting Bodh Gaya.