16 killed, 76 injured when powerful bomb exploded near PATA Mart venue
Delhi earthquake and deadly terror attack concerns PATA Mart delegates
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An earthquake rocked India's capital of Delhi Wednesday night around 11:28 pm. ETN Publisher Juergen T. Steinmetz was sitting in his Hyatt hotel room on the 4th floor when it happened.
The electricity went out, and it sounded like a violent explosion in the lobby. The lights came back on 2 minutes after the violent explosive sound.
It appeared everything was back to normal, then at 12:30 am (an hour later) another smaller explosion sound rocked the hotel and the lights went off again, this time for 30 seconds.
Earthquake tremors, measuring 4.2 on the Richter Scale with Haryana's Sonepat as the epicenter, were felt across Delhi and its adjoining satellite towns of Ghaziabad and Noida in Uttar Pradesh and Gurgaon in Haryana.
The quake sent fear among people, many of whom ran out of their high-rise buildings.
Juergen Steinmetz is attending the PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Mart 2011 in Delhi, a yearly tourism industry conference. PATA earlier informed delegates about a powerful bomb explosion 1 mile from the PATA Mart venue that killed 16 people and wounded 76. A blast ripped through the busiest entrance to the Delhi High Court in a terror attack claimed by a South Asian militant group that renewed concerns of India’s unpreparedness in dealing with terrorism.
PATA Interim CEO Calderwood emailed all delegates, stating: "Because of the blast, the New Delhi authorities have increased security levels throughout the city. You may, therefore, experience some disruption in movement about town and moving between Pragati Maidan and your hotel. Please bear that in mind as you plan your schedules. Please also monitor news updates on the situation.
"PATA is in contact with Indian authorities and is monitoring the situation, too. PATA will update you of any developments."
It's the second terror attack that has occurred in less than four months. Previously, terrorists struck at 10:15 am targeting the morning rush at Gate No. 5 and was claimed by the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI) militant group, an al Qaeda affiliate with bases in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The leader of the opposition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sushma Swaraj, said that it was the government’s lethargy that led to Wednesday's strike, accusing it of failing to act on the last blast in May, which had not injured anyone.
“It is shocking that in the last four months this is the second blast at the same area. It was decided to install CCTV cameras, but even after the last blast, government did not take any action, which led to this deadlier blast,” said Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who defended security arrangements and promised that the perpetrators would be tracked down and brought to justice. He said that intelligence agencies had shared information with Delhi police in July about the latest threats.
Delhi, as well as other metros of India, was put on high alert after the explosion, while over a hundred soldiers, police officers, and bomb squad specialists, including teams from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and National Security Guard (NSG), were sent to the scene.
"The blast occurred outside the High Court in the public area where unchecked people come," a senior police official said earlier, “Apparently the bomb was in a briefcase, but it is yet to be fully confirmed."
Early television footage showed people running in blood-soaked and tattered clothes, and women breaking down in cries. Nearly 200 people were said to be standing in a queue to get entry passes to enter inside the court.
“I saw people covered in blood running outside,” said an eyewitness at the location. People near the site of the explosion said it was of high intensity with a huge sound, and police said it had left a large crater.
Initial forensic evidence showed nitrate-based explosives with possible traces of pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), a powerful high explosive, were used in the approximate 2 kg bomb, home ministry officials said. Sharing details of the preliminary investigations, the Internal Security Secretary in the home ministry, U. K. Bansal, said traces of the hard-to-detect, plastic-based explosive PETN were recovered from the site. "But this is the result of preliminary investigation. Rigorous investigations are in progress," Bansal said, adding that the probe was being led by a 20-member team of the NIA being assisted by NSG and Delhi Police.
Home Minister Chidambaram said there is no cause that will justify a terrorist act. He said the NIA has been handed over the probe. Investigators said they were probing the claim by HuJI, which sent an email claiming responsibility for the attack and demanded that the death sentence of Kashmir-based terrorist Afzal Guru, convicted of the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, be repealed.
"We owe the responsibility of today's blasts at high court Delhi ... our demand is that Afzal Guru's death sentence should be repealed immediately else we would target major high courts and THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA,” the email, also received by various media houses, said.
Police released sketches of two men, believed to be the terrorists, to the public. A police official said that they were not ruling out the possibility of suspects being among those killed or injured. The injured were taken to several hospitals, including the AIIMS, Safdurjung, LNJP, and RML. The Home Minister said some of the injured in the hospitals are in serious condition.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the blast a cowardly act and urged all Indians to deal with terrorism unitedly to defeat it. "I am told that 10 people have perished. My heart goes out to the bereaved families, and to those who are injured, I convey my best wishes," he said in Dhaka where he is on a two-day trip. He returned to India later in the day and visited the injured in hospitals.
"This is a cowardly act. We will deal with it, we will not succumb to pressure of terrorism," he said, "This is a long war in which all political parties, all people of India, should stand united so that the scourge of terrorism is crushed." He also sanctioned an ex-gratia of 2 lakh rupees each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to the next of kin of the persons deceased and 1 lakh rupee each to those who got seriously injured in the bomb blast.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L. K. Advani said: "It is sad that it happened again in the national capital." He said the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is close and such incidents can be linked to that as well since terrorists often think that way.
Security experts said that the attack once again exposed India’s vulnerability to terrorism. The attack in broad daylight on the high-profile location, which was yet to install security cameras in its entrances, underscored the gaping flaws in India’s internal security mechanism, they said.