Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday said the terrorists who killed seven Indians and two foreigners here in India’s worst attack since the Mumbai massacre must be quickly brought to justice as the opposition sought the axing of upcoming talks with Pakistan.
While four teams began probing the horrific bombing at the popular German Bakery Saturday evening, Home Minister P. Chidambaram hinted at Islamist links, saying Pakistan-born American David C. Headley, an activist of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group, had visited Pune in 2007-08.
Pakistan moved quickly to condemn the Pune terror strike, with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani saying his country wanted “good relations with India. We want (upcoming) talks to be meaningful”.
In a decision that has taken many by surprise, foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are set to meet in New Delhi Feb 25. India snapped its composite dialogue process after 10 Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in November 2008 and slaughtered 166 Indians and foreigners.
With Pune tense but calm, Manmohan Singh asked the central and Maharashtra governments to “take coordinated and effective action” and speed up the probe into the bombing.
He told Chidambaram, who visited Pune and called on the prime minister later, to ensure that “the culprits responsible for this heinous act are identified and brought to justice at the earliest”.
No group has claimed responsibility for the devastating bomb attack that killed nine people, including a 26-year-old Iranian student and a 37-year-old Italian woman attached to the nearby Osho ashram.
All the others who died were Indians, including a brother and sister from Kolkata.
Sixty people were injured, and at least one of them who had suffered 78 percent burns and multiple fractures was said to be in critical condition and unlikely to survive.
Speaking in Pune, Chidambaram linked the bombing to Headley and said the terrorists chose to attack a place frequented by foreigners and young Indians.
He said that Headley had surveyed the Osho ashram and the Jewish Chabad House when he quietly visited Pune to pluck out possible targets in India for his Lashkar handlers.
“This particular area has been on (terrorist) radar for sometime. The Chabad House was surveyed by Headley. Police were sensitised that the Chabad House was a target so was the Osho ashram. These were the hard targets,” the minister said.
He said the terrorist who brought the bomb to the 32-square-metre bakery, which he called a “soft target”, might have posed as a customer and left behind the backpack containing the explosive under a table.
The bomb exploded with a deafening roar when a waiter at the bakery tried to open the backpack. Shopkeeper Santosh Bhosle, who was among the first to rush to the site, told IANS Sunday that he had never seen such a bloody scene in his life.
Chidambaram said the case would be cracked soon. He said it was too early to speculate what the motive of the attack was.
The authorities announced a compensation of Rs.5 lakh to the families of the killed. Manmohan Singh announced a further Rs.2 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed and Rs.1 lakh each to those injured.
Anxious and grieving relatives waited outside Pune hospitals Sunday hoping the wounded would recover soon. A German man, finding it difficult to speak in English, moved from one hospital to another looking for his wife.
The authorities issued a high alert in New Delhi, Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
In Maharashtra, hundreds of policemen spread out checking at random vehicles, train and bus passengers, those visiting major religious shrines and vital installations.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) urged the government to call off the proposed talks with Pakistan, saying Islamabad still harboured anti-India terrorists.
“Terror and talks cannot co-exist. When terror threatens India, then not talking is also a legitimate diplomatic option,” BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said. His colleague Sushma Swaraj echoed the demand.
Jaitley accused the government of taking an unexplained “U turn” on its negotiating stand in the peace dialogue with Pakistan.
The US and Britain quickly moved to ask their citizens in India to be on alert.