Gaya: Terror struck one of the holiest Buddhist shrines, the Mahabodhi Temple, and other places in Bihar`s pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya early on Sunday, with suspected Indian Mujahideen operatives simultaneously triggering nine low intensity bombs leaving two monks injured.
The temple`s sanctum sanctorum and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts which shook the holy town frequented by lakhs Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asia each year.
Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami said in New Delhi that serial explosions inside and outside Mahabodhi Temple complex were a terror attack and NIA and NSG teams have been sent for post-blasts investigations.
A five-member NIA team comprising a DIG and two SPs reached here by a special plane from New Delhi and began their probe at the temple complex, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Gaya Range, Nayyar Hasnain Khan, said.
Security has been beefed at the temple and adjoining areas, Bihar police chief DGP Abhayanand told reporters, adding CCTV footage was being examined for leads to the terrorists.
The explosions, the first of its type to target the town and the temple, a UNESCO heritage site, took place between 5:30 and 5:58 am. The explosives were set off by timers.
Last year, the Delhi Police claimed to have foiled a `fidayeen` attack in the town with the arrest of suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) elements to avenge "atrocities" against Muslims in Myanmar. Security agencies suspect that IM may be behind today`s multiple blasts.
However, no group has claimed responsibility for what the Centre and state government have described as a terror attack in a region where Maoists have a strong foothold.
"While four blasts took place inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, three occurred in Karmapa monastery, one each near near the famous 80-ft Buddha statue and at the bus stand near bypass," Khan said.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said two live bombs were defused in the town. A third bomb, hidden in a cyclinder, was recovered from a village near Bodh Gaya hours after the blasts and defused.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who rushed to the blast site from Patna, about 100 kms from here, demanded deployment of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) for security of the shrine.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh strongly condemned the blasts, saying such attacks on religious places will "never be tolerated".
Hours after the multiple blasts, the Centre directed all states to ensure fool-proof security at Buddhist shrines and Tibetan settlements in the wake of the continuing violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar.
In an advisory to all states with special emphasis on cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune, the Home Ministry said adequate security must be provided to Buddhist shrines, Buddhist places of worships and Tibetian settlements.
Mahabodhi Temple, the target of serial blasts, has been closed for general public but the prayers will continue to be held as usual, Abhayanand said.
The DGP said no harm has come to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Buddhist temple.
The two injured monks, one from Tibet and the other a national of Myanmar, were admitted to Magadh Medical College and Hospital, Arvind Singh, a member of Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee said.
Singh said two bombs, one near the 80 feet statue and another at a bus stand have been defused.
Asked about the nature of explosives used, SK Bharadwaj, ADG (Law and Order) said they were low intensity time bombs.
"We got information about six-seven months back that there may be a terror attack on the Mahabodhi Temple. After that we had beefed up security and deployed extra forces", police said.
At the temple, security arrangements by police are only outside the temple while the security inside is looked after by temple trust officials. A senior police official said.
An official of the Bodh Gaya committee said, "There were four blasts inside the temple premises. Fortunately, there was no damage to the Bodhi Tree or the main temple structure."
"In the first blast which took place near the Bodhi tree, a table was blown up because of which two persons were injured. The second blast was inside an enclosure where books were kept. The furniture was damaged but there was no damage to the monuments or statues," he said.