Bomb blasts kill three, injure 41 worshippers at Jehovah’s Witnesses convention in Kerala’s Kalamassery

A member of the religious group, who claimed to be disillusioned with its “anti-national messaging”, confessed to the crime and has been booked under UAPA; police probing whether he worked alone

October 29, 2023 11:18 am | Updated October 30, 2023 12:12 pm IST - KOCHI

People react after a blast at a convention centre in Kalamassery in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on October 29, 2023.

People react after a blast at a convention centre in Kalamassery in Kerala’s Ernakulam district on October 29, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

At least two successive explosions ripped through a crowded Jehovah’s Witnesses prayer convention at Kalamassery in Ernakulam on October 29 morning, killing three people and injuring 41 other worshippers.

The police identified one of the deceased as 53-year-old Kumari from Thodupuzha. The other victim remained unidentified. In the early hours of Monday, a 12-year-old girl from Malayattoor, who was hospitalised with 90% burn injuries, succumbed, taking the death toll in the blast to three.

The police have detained Kochi resident Dominic Martin, a “disenchanted” member of the religious group, as a suspect in the case. They have booked him under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, paving the way for a possible National Investigation Agency probe.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan indicated that the death toll might climb, given the severe nature of burn and shrapnel injuries sustained by five attendees. He said 17 of the injured were in intensive care units.

| Video Credit: Special arrangement

Kerala shell-shocked

The images of the explosion’s destructive aftermath played cyclically across television channels, creating a sense of shock, anguish, fear, and anger that pervaded Kerala society.

Mr. Vijayan has called an all-party meeting on October 30 to mitigate the fraught social climate precipitated by the bombing. He also spoke to Union Home Minister Amit Shah before leaving New Delhi, where he was attending a party meeting, for Kerala.

At a hastily convened press conference on his arrival in Kerala, Mr. Vijayan slammed a Union Minister for allegedly vitiating the communal atmosphere by posting an incendiary message on a social media platform. He did not name the individual, but indicated that the Minister faced police prosecution and legal jeopardy.

The blasts occurred at 9:38 a.m., when an estimated 2,000 people had assembled for the prayer meeting, primarily families with women and children.

Ministers K. Rajan, V.N. Vasavan and Antony Raju at the Govt Medical College in Ernakulam to check on the blast injured admitted there. Photo: Special Arrangement

Ministers K. Rajan, V.N. Vasavan and Antony Raju at the Govt Medical College in Ernakulam to check on the blast injured admitted there. Photo: Special Arrangement

‘Anti-national indoctrination’

The police probe initially looked into covert operatives of radical Islamist fringe outfits inimical to pro-Israel evangelical groups. However, investigation took a startling turn in the afternoon when Mr. Martin arrived at the Kodakara police station in Thrissur and “confessed” to the crime.

Before his surrender, Mr. Martin posted a Facebook video taking responsibility for the blasts. He claimed that he had been a zealous member of the group for 16 years, but had become disillusioned with its “anti-national messaging” in 2017.

In the video, Mr. Martin said that his attempts to persuade the group’s leadership to change tack were in vain. He indicated that he had resorted to a high-profile act of violence to spotlight the group’s “anti-national indoctrination”.

Outsize impact

The police were examining the video’s time stamp. Investigators also inspected Mr. Martin’s rented house in Kochi and interviewed his wife. One aspect of the police probe has pivoted to the inner workings of the religious group, an official said.

The police said that a lethal cocktail of low-grade gunpowder and petrol had caused the blast. Officials said that the saboteur had triggered the bomb remotely. Given the improvised explosive device’s fragmentation in a confined and crowded space, it had an outsize impact.

According to investigators, Mr. Martin said that he had downloaded a bomb-making manual from the internet and carried out trials, including dry runs, before the actual explosion. They were probing whether he operated as a lone wolf or had other associates.

‘No place for hatred’

Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan said it was “disturbing to note” that Kerala was “becoming a place where such incidents are happening which are considered terrorist acts”.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is the MP for Kerala’s Wayanad, condemned the attack. “The bomb blasts during a prayer meeting in Ernakulam, Kerala, are deeply distressing and condemnable. My condolences to the bereaved family, and I hope for a quick recovery for those injured. There is no place for hatred and violence in a civilised society. The [government] must conduct a thorough probe and bring the guilty to justice,” he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

“Hate, divisiveness and terror have zero space in a civilised society. Those who foster violence must be dealt with an iron hand,” said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, also posting on X.

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