PUNE, Feb 14 – A bomb ripped through a restaurant popular with tourists in the western Indian city of Pune late Saturday, killing nine people and casting a shadow over the resumption of Indo-Pakistan peace talks.
At least one foreigner — believed to be a Taiwanese national — was among the dead, according to Pune Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh.
Some 57 others were injured, one of them critically, India\’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram told a news conference Sunday after visiting the blast site and the injured in hospital.
"What was being targeted was a soft target where both foreigners and Indians, especially young people, congregate," he said, calling for calm and public vigilance.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which Chidambaram described earlier as "a significant terrorist incident".
It was the first major attack on Indian soil since the November 2008 Mumbai massacre — blamed on the banned, Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba — which prompted New Delhi to suspend dialogue with Islamabad.
The South Asian rivals had agreed just last week to resume talks, and the Pune blast triggered immediate opposition calls for that decision to be reviewed.
The bomb, apparently left under a table in a backpack, went off in the German Bakery — a popular eatery in the Koregaon Park area of the city — at about 7:30 pm (1400 GMT).
An eyewitness described a scene of carnage, with body parts littered around the immediate site of the blast.
"There is no German Bakery anymore," he told the CNN-IBN news channel. "There were bodies everywhere. We tried to help carry them into the ambulances."
Vikram Jha, a student at the local Symbiosis Law School said people were stunned.
"We have never seen anything like this," he told AFP. "Pune was just not prepared for this."
All Indian states have been put on high alert, while The Telegraph newspaper in the northeastern city of Kolkata said security would be increased for Sunday\’s India-South Africa cricket Test match.
Pune, a key education hub with a growing IT industry, is about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Mumbai and the blast carried echoes of the deadly 2008 attack on India\’s financial capital by 10 Islamist gunmen.
A total of 166 people, including 25 foreigners, died in the attack and more than 300 others were injured.
The German Bakery is only 200 yards (183 metres) from an ashram, or religious retreat, specialising in meditation courses run by a Swiss-based firm Osho International.
David Headley, a US-Pakistani national awaiting trial in the United States for allegedly scouting out possible targets in the Mumbai attacks, is believed to have stayed in the ashram on a trip to Pune, the government said.
Headley, 49, has pleaded not guilty to 12 terrorism-related charges and remains in custody in Chicago.
The bakery was also close to Chabad House, a Jewish cultural and religious centre run by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement whose members were targeted in the Mumbai attacks.
"Chabad House was surveyed by David Headley," said Chidambaram. "It\’s premature to say whether this particular incident is related to that.
"We will have to wait for the investigation to find out who was behind it… We are ruling out nothing. We are ruling in nothing."
Prakash Jawadekar, a spokesman for the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said the government should now reconsider the resumption of talks with Pakistan, which has been scheduled for February 25.
"Terror and talks cannot go together" Jawadekar told reporters after visiting the blast site in Pune.