Two injured; nine explosions damage World Heritage structure; Buddha statue safe

The Bodh Gaya temple complex in Bihar was rocked by a series of explosions on Sunday morning. Over a hundred worshippers had just finished 30 minutes of chanting and a few were entering the temple complex — a UNESCO World Heritage site associated with the Buddha’s enlightenment — when the first blast occurred at 5:45 a.m. Nine explosions followed in the next hour — four at temple sites and five in a 500-meter radius.

The Special Task Force (STF) of the Kolkata Police is looking into whether a man held here late on Saturday evening and suspected to have links with the banned terrorist outfit, the Indian Mujahideen, is involved in the Bodh Gaya serial blasts. Anwar Hussain Mullick (42) was arrested from a bus stop in the heart of the city with explosives and fake Indian currency notes, senior officials of the STF said on Sunday. He is a resident of Chapra in West Bengal’s Nadia district bordering Bangladesh. He has been remanded in police custody till July 20.

Vilsagga (30), a student monk from Myanmar who began his PhD in Buddhist Studies at Magadh University last month, and Tenzing Dorjee (60), a retired soldier who now supervises the Ningma Tibetan monastery, were both praying near the Bodhi tree and suffered serious injuries in a blast. A 3-kg cylinder with Trinitrotoluene (TNT) and ammonium nitrate was later recovered from under the sacred tree — a peepal tree where the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment in 6th century BC. The tree was not damaged though. The seven-story shikhar, a pyramidal structure that forms the main sanctum, as well as the other shrines at the site were intact.

“I had been meditating for ten minutes when there was a loud sound. My face and my hand hurt as I tried to make my way to the gate,” Vilsagga spoke with difficulty as he lay in maroon robes in the Intensive Care Unit of the AN Magadha Medical College after being treated for soft-tissue injuries and splinter injuries on his face and arms.

The police cordoned off the area as senior officials and politicians began arriving from Gaya, 12 kms away, and from Patna. “The area will remain cordoned off till the National Investigation Agency (NIA) team examines the area,” said Director General of Police Bihar Abhayanand adding that the NIA team had difficulty in landing near Gaya because of bad weather. “We have provided extra security as requested by the temple management committee and are examining the area for evidence,” he added. All shops and most hotels remained closed. A group of monks lined up for evening prayers at 6 p.m. and were allowed inside the temple complex.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reached Bodh Gaya from Patna at 10:45 am in the morning and visited the temple complex as well as the injured being treated in Gaya. “This is very unfortunate. We have requested the central government for the Central Industrial Security Force to be deployed as well as for help from the NIA in investigations,” he said.

Even as policemen, Central Reserve Police Force personnel, staff of Forensic Laboratory remained stationed at the complex, BJP workers staged demonstrations twice shouting slogans against the JD(U) government. The BJP called a bandh for Monday. At 6 p.m., more than 50 BJP workers burnt an effigy of the Chief Minister Kumar near the temple. Congress workers criticised the BJP saying the party was using the incident to score politically.

Senior police officials said that despite allegations by political parties, there was no intelligence failure on the part of the police. According to SP Narendra Kumar, there were 20 policemen and 38 guards of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee posted at the main temple on Saturday. “The southern wall of the temple complex is low and they may have used this wall to climb into the main complex between 3:30-4 a.m.,” said Mr. Kumar.

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