GUWAHATI, October 31 – Police on Friday were interrogating about a dozen people over suspected links to serial bombings that killed at least 71 people in India’s insurgency-hit state of Assam.
A total of 12 explosions within an hour shook the northeastern state on Thursday, six of them ripping through the main city of Guwahati.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which state officials said may have been the work of the rebel United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1979.
Police were also investigating whether Islamist fundamentalist groups active in Assam, such as the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, could have been to blame.
Soon after the blasts, Assam government spokesman Himanta Biswa Sarma said "the needle of suspicion" pointed to the ULFA. However, the group denied it was involved.
A senior official said Friday detectives were making headway in their investigation.
"We should be able to zero in on the people or groups involved in the serial bombings," said the official, who did not want to be named.
Preliminary investigations showed some of the bombs had been strapped to bicycles and packed with incendiary material to trigger fires.
"Most of the bombs were planted in crowded places like markets and office complexes," Sarma said. "So it shows that the perpetrators wanted high casualties."
Ten people died of their injuries overnight, taking the death toll to 71 with 300 more wounded, he said.
The powerful blasts, including one in front of the Guwahati District Magistrate’s Court, reduced nearby vehicles to heaps of twisted metal.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in New Delhi on an official visit, condemned what he called an "act of terrorism targeting civilians," according to a statement issued by his spokeswoman.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said every effort would be made to bring the bombers to justice.
"Such barbaric acts targeting innocent men, women and children only highlight the desperation and cowardice of those responsible," he said.
The attacks came six weeks after New Delhi was hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen.
In the past two decades, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency violence in Assam, which is known for its tea, timber and oil reserves.
In January 2007, police blamed the ULFA for a wave of attacks in which 62 people were killed, many of them Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
Peace talks between the ULFA and the government collapsed in 2006. Since then the rebels have kept up their attacks.
Insurgencies have wracked India’s northeastern states, known as the "seven sisters", for decades. More than 50,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in the region since India’s independence from Britain in 1947.