Christian leaders: "Unite against Varanasi bombs, seed of hate"
by Nirmala Carvalho

"Firm and unanimous" condemnation has poured in from India's largest Christian organizations and from the international political scene. A Kashmir separatist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and threatens: "There is more to come."

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Varanasi bombs "have shed innocent blood in vain" and "they should be firmly condemned by all protagonists of Indian public life, political parties and religious groups, so that those who want to defeat peace with violence will not triumph".

Thus have India's Christian groups condemned the three blasts which struck Varanasi, the holy Hindu city, on Tuesday afternoon, claiming 23 lives.

John Dayal, human rights activist and president of the All India Catholic Union, issued a statement in which he emphasized that such violence "can only serve those religious fundamentalist and extremist factions who thrive on exacerbating real and imagined divides and grievances. They want national attention and with bombs and bloodshed, they forcibly divert energies away from tackling the country's social problems.

"It is for the governments of the state and the centre to ensure the safety of the people. However, the Christian leadership calls on all right-thinking citizens to respect others' rights, thus ensuring national stability.

"This gesture would send a clear message to religious and political extremism: you have no place in a democratic, secular and republican India.

Meanwhile, Cedric Prakash SJ, director of Prashant [a Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace based in Gujarat], said: "Any attempt to terrorize innocent people or to destabilize society through violence is totally unacceptable. Attacks on sacred shrines, be they the Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi, the Babri Masjid Mosque in Ayodhya or Churches in Gujarat, definitely exacerbate violence and hatred." He added: "These attacks target all religions and deeply hurt the religious sentiments of people and are bound to widen the communal divide. We call upon the central government and the government of Uttar Pradesh to act expeditiously and objectively in order to ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are brought to book immediately. Further, we urge all political parties to refrain from trying to score political points over this tragedy. Such acts of terror should bring political parties of every hue together, enabling them to rise about petty considerations, to unite to fight terrorism."

Unanimous condemnation has poured in from the international political scene. Sean McCormack, spokesman of the US State Department, said yesterday in Washington that "the United States condemns once more these acts which have a clear terrorist connotation." Similar words came from Kim Howell, the British Foreign Affairs Minister, who upheld "British determination work closely alongside India against the evil expressed by extremists" and said the Varanasi bombs "demonstrate once more the evil that the world continues to face". Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, on an official visit to the country, said the attack "reminded the world about the necessity to fighting together against the scourge of terrorism".

The attack put all the country on a state of high alert: yesterday's plenary meeting of parliament was adjourned, disturbed by mutual accusations launched by diverse political parties. Meanwhile blanket checks were under way in airports and near temples, as well as centres of power.

Yesterday morning, police said they killed one of the suspected perpetrators of the attack: the man, according to police sources, was affiliated with the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group fighting for independence in Indian Kashmir from New Delhi and which is active throughout India.

However, this morning, claims of responsibility came from a different quarter: a thus-far unknown Islamic group, the Lashkar-e-Kahar, told a press agency it was behind the tragedy. "We carried out the Varanasi attacks," said one man claiming to be the group's spokesman on the phone. "And there will be others, until India stops the atrocities it is committing against Muslims in Kashmir."