Wednesday, Sep 25, 2002
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By Manas Dasgupta
The Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.
Police, personnel of the Border Security Force, the Rapid Action Force and other paramilitary forces available in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad have cordoned off the entire complex, spread over 23 acres and are waiting for the arrival of special commando forces from Delhi.
Initial reports said at least 300 people were still inside the complex, including the staff and Swaminarayan "sadhus'' who live there. It is not clear whether they have been taken hostage by the terrorists or are staying inside because of the intermittent firing by the terrorists hiding in the complex.
According to the Gujarat Home Secretary, K. Nityanandam, two terrorists had been located near the exhibition hall in the complex but police were finding it difficult to pinpoint the locations as the complex is dotted with trees and bushes and lighting facilities are inadequate.
Though no outfit has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, police suspect it to be the handiwork of the Pakistan-based outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Two terrorists entered the complex by jumping the fence adjacent to gate number 3 while two entered through the main gate around 4.45 p.m., police said. All of them were in civilian dress. As the two terrorists at the main entrance were told to deposit their bags at the counter, they took out hand grenades and AK 47 rifles and started firing indiscriminately. Their associates near gate 3 also opened fire immediately. All the four rushed towards the main temple firing in the air and at the people nearby.
A large number of people gathered near the main gate on hearing about the attack and started shouting slogans, making the police operation difficult. To overcome the problem of inadequate lighting and ensure that no terrorist escaped, police asked the people to park their vehicles facing the complex and switch on the headlights.
The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, is in touch with the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is in the Maldives.
The complex is visited by hundreds of people from all over and most of the casualties were reported from among those who were near the main gate. The terrorists, police believe, are hiding at different corners of the temple complex as sounds of indiscriminate firing were coming from all directions.
The authorities also do not rule out the possibility of more than four terrorists being holed up inside. It was also possible that a couple of them might have escaped after initial firing and before police cordoned off the complex.
One of the injured admitted in the Gandhinagar Civil Hospital said that he had seen two masked men in Army uniform firing at the people. But the people who were near the main gate said they were in civilian dress.
Police rescued about 70 persons trapped inside the museum but those in the exhibition hall and other parts of the complex are still stranded.
What is causing concern is the way in which the terrorists could infiltrate the Akshardham, which is located in the high security zone and close to important installations like the Air Force station, the secretariat and the police headquarters.
The news about the terrorist attack in the Akshardham complex caused panic reaction in Ahmedabad where the people in the minority-dominated Old City areas downed the shutters fearing reprisal as the Swaminarayan sect enjoys one of the largest followings among Hindus in Gujarat.
The Akshardham complex was inaugurated on October 30, 1992. It was constructed with 6,000 tonnes of pink sandstones especially brought from Rajasthan, and it took eight lakh manhours of "devotional labour'' to complete. The main temple is 108 ft tall, 240 ft long and 131 ft wide.
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