NEW DELHI - A powerful bomb placed in a briefcase outside the High Court in New Delhi killed at least 10 people and wounded 47 on Wednesday, the deadliest attack in India in almost two months, prompting the government to put the capital on high alert.
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Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told parliament the bomb, which dug a crater at least one meter deep, exploded at the main reception gate where passes are issued for visitors to enter the court compound before the main security checkpoint.
"Delhi is a target of terrorist groups...(but) we shall never be intimidated by terrorist groups," the minister said, pledging to track down those responsible.
"At this stage it is not possible to identify the group that caused the bomb blast today."
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, less than two months after near-simultaneous triple bomb attacks
in India's financial hub Mumbai killed 24.
There is still no word on who was behind the Mumbai attacks, although police have focused their investigation on the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown militant group know for its city-to-city bombing campaigns using small explosive devices.
"I was near the gate at that time," said lawyer K.K. Gautam. "There was an orderly queue when a loud blast occurred. I saw many injured and dead. I saw 20-25 injured and around 10 dead.
"I saw some dead bodies and some dismembered body parts."
The court building compound is in a leafy, usually tranquil and upscale part of the city. The outside gate is usually manned by a handful of policemen armed with automatic rifles and hand-held scanners.
Lawyers in black suits and starched white collars stood around shocked on one of the busiest days of the week when the court hears public interest petitions.
About 120 soldiers, police and bomb squad specialists were at the scene, with ambulances whisking the injured away to hospitals.
"There was panic everywhere. Now we are on the way to the hospital," witness Kriti Uppal told CNN-IBN. "It seems to be very powerful (blast). Seems to be many casualties."
Television images showed scores of lawyers running from one of the main gates of the building just after the explosion. Police cordoned off the area, not far from parliament and the prime minister's office.
"The site has been fully secured and Delhi has been put on high alert. Whatever precautions need to be taken are being taken," said U.K. Bansal, in charge of internal security at the home ministry.Blast raises questions about security in India
The blast in the heart of the capital will renew concern about the authorities' ability to prevent attacks, particularly in sensitive, high-risk areas.
"This is a glaring example of the shortage of intelligence, both human and technical -- something if we had had we could have prevented these attacks," said Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
Two lawyers at the court, Namita Roy, 48, and Hargovina Jah, 40, told Reuters the scanner and metal detector at Gate 5 of the court where the blast occurred were not working.
"This is definitely a big security lapse on the part of the police. For example, yesterday even the (body) scanner was not working. The security, more or less, is very weak, especially in view of the blast that happened a few months ago," said Roy.
The blast outside the court, seen as a high profile but soft target, comes at a time when the judiciary is in sharp focus for nudging the government to act on issues ranging from corruption to the environment.
Ruling Congress party politicians have over the past year criticised the
Supreme Court for overstepping its authority and intervening in
executive functions. The Supreme Court is the highest court in India.
The High Court is the court of appeal at state or provincial level.
"So an attack on such a target will bring you the maximum mileage," said
independent strategic analyst Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta. "Also, notice that
this comes just days before 9/11, so the government should have
expected something like this."
Several bomb attacks in large Indian cities in recent years have been
tied to the Indian Mujahideen, said to have support from Pakistan-based
militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
In May, a low-intensity blast outside the same High Court in Delhi triggered panic but injured no one.Pakistan-based militants attacked Mumbai
in coordinated assaults that
killed 166 people in 2008, raising tensions with nuclear-armed arch
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government came under intense
criticism over the handling of those attacks. The government promised a
radical overhaul of the security apparatus in India but critics say the
reforms have been inadequate and in some cases abandoned.