Jaipur, India (CNSNews.com) - A day after synchronized bomb blasts ripped through crowded marketplaces of the western Indian city of Jaipur, debate continued about the motive behind the deadly attack and the need for India to tighten anti-terror laws.
The series of eight blasts that left at least 65 people dead and several hundred injured took police and intelligence agencies by surprise.
Popularly known as Pink City on account of its unique pink colored monuments, bazaars and palaces, Jaipur -- the capital of Rajasthan state and a popular tourist destination -- is one of the most peaceful cities in India, with a long record of harmony between the Hindu majority and a large Muslim minority, as well as Sikhs and Christians.
Some analysts suggested the bombing was an attempt to provoke inter-religious tensions. Several of the bombs -- which state officials said were made with ammonium nitrate, RDX explosive and ball-bearings and in some cases were strapped to bicycles -- were detonated near Hindu temples.
If that was the intention, it appeared to have failed. Thousands of residents, both Hindus and Muslims, joined vigils outside local hospitals donating blood or otherwise helping the injured. The state government declared a curfew as a precautionary measure.
Residents' welfare associations called for calm, saying retaliation would merely serve the terrorists' interests.
State officials said police had made several arrests as investigations continued. Indian media reported Thursday that a group calling itself "Indian Mujahideen" had claimed responsibility. A Hindi news channel had received an emailed video clip showing a package, supposedly one of the bombs, strapped to a bicycle.
Earlier, a senior central government minister said the terrorism was the result of a "deep-rooted and very well-planned conspiracy" planned in a "neighboring country."
Home Affairs Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal hinted that Harkut-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI) could be behind the attack. The group, whose name means Movement of Islamic Holy War, has been linked to earlier, similar blasts, including an attack last November in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.
HuJI is a Sunni group that emerged from the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and has been active in the broader South Asian region, including Pakistan and Bangladesh since the 1990s. It has links to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other regionally-based terror outfits.
India has not directly accused traditional rival Pakistan of involvement in the attack, although it has frequently in the past accused Pakistan of backing or tolerating militant groups operating from Pakistani soil. The Jaipur bombings came just days before Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was due to visit Islamabad.
Over the past two years, hundreds of people have died in terror attacks across India, attributed to Islamic terrorists. The latest atrocity provoked renewed demands for stronger anti-terror laws and more efforts to seal India's borders.
In its latest annual report on global terrorism, the U.S. State Department said India was among the world's most terror-afflicted countries, but that counter terror efforts were "hampered by outdated and overburdened law enforcement and legal systems."
The main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, which also rules Rajasthan, blamed what it called the national government's "soft approach" to terrorism, with BJP national chief Rajnath Singh calling the Jaipur blasts a "dangerous" indication that terror groups were spreading their activities into the country's heartland.
Soon after coming to power in 2004, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repealed the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA), arguing that it was draconian and that regular laws were adequate.
The POTA granted special authority to investigating agencies and allowed for suspects to be held without charge for up to 180 days. Human rights campaigners said it violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
Critics of the government's decision to scrap the law say it has removed an important deterrent.
Senior BJP leader and Supreme Court advocate Arun Jaitley argued that, despite its failings, the POTA was effective and comprehensive, in that it also dealt with funding of terrorist activities.
Political analyst Preeti Sharma contended that in the absence of effective anti-terror laws and a strong intelligence network, India was sacrificing its ability to fight terrorism.
Many here view India as becoming increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, especially in summer months when melting ice allows easier movement for terrorists wanting to cross borders between India and Pakistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ability of the governments of neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and Bangladesh, to police their borders and prevent illegal crossings by terrorists or other criminals is also questioned.
Just three days ago, India lodged a complaint with Pakistan after militants in the Pakistan-controlled portion of the disputed territory of Kashmir fired across the frontier at Indian security forces.
Eyewitnesses recounted scenes of panic and horror. Amit Agarwal said he saw a street vendor from whom he had just made a purchase blown to pieces barely ten paces away, while Devendra Singh, who was among those injured, described "a virtual stampede as everyone just ran for cover."
Harish Kumar, a fruit vendor near Jaipur's Hanuman temple which bore the brunt of one of the blasts, described it as deafening, saying he thought gas cylinders had exploded.
Pratap Singh, a resident of Jaipur's old city, said he was returning from a marriage celebration when he narrowly escaped injury in a blast in the Johri bazaar.
"I was saved from the bomb blast since I was standing behind a wall adjoining the showroom which bore the main impact," he said, adding that he had helped take some of the injured to hospital.
The Jaipur attacks brought worldwide condemnation, with the governments of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan and Israel among those pledging support to India in its fight against terrorism.
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.