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Hyderabad, India -
India hunted on Friday for perpetrators of twin bomb attacks that killed 14 people and wounded dozens more near a cinema and a bus stand in a busy neighbourhood in the city of Hyderabad.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said those responsible for the “dastardly act” would be punished, as federal investigators and bomb disposal units arrived at the cordoned-off blast site in southern India.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the CNN-IBN news channel reported a militant from the Indian Mujahideen group had told Delhi police during interrogation in October 2012 about a plan to attack the same area.
The attacks raised questions over whether Australia's cricket team would go ahead with a scheduled international match against India in Hyderabad starting on March 2, although the tourists said the Test was still on for now.
Police meanwhile struggled to keep order with large crowds massing at the busy junction where the attacks were carried out on Thursday evening.
The bombings, the first to hit India since 2011, hit a mainly Hindu district in Hyderabad, a hub of India's computing industry which hosts local offices of Google and Microsoft among others and which has a large Muslim population.
Witnesses said one of the crude devices went off around metres from the entrance to the Venkatadri Cinema in the popular retail district of Dilsukh Nagar, and the second exploded next to a nearby bus stop.
The first explosion went off just as movie-goers were making their way out of the cinema at the end of a show. Some had stopped at food stalls when the deafening blast hit.
Many of those killed and injured were daily wage labourers stopping to pick up food at the local fruit market before heading home.
“The total dead are 14, total injured is 119. Out of this six are critical,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters on Friday.
N Rao, a senior police official in Hyderabad, confirmed the toll of 14 and put the number of wounded at 80.
Doctors late on Thursday struggled to treat a stream of wounded victims as bloodied patients lay on stretchers at city hospitals and anguished relatives clamoured for news of their loved ones.
The attacks came at a time when India was on alert after the recent hanging of a separatist unleashed protests in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
Shinde said that while authorities had received intelligence of a possible threat of attack, “it was not specific”.
Questioned about the Indian Mujahideen's possible involvement, Shinde said it was too early to say.
“The investigation has just started ... we will find out everything,” he said.
Commenting on the upcoming Test match in Hyderabad, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said he was taking advice from authorities.
“As far as I'm concerned we are playing the second Test in Hyderabad next week. That's where we are at,” said Sutherland, who is with the team in Chennai for the opening Test starting later on Friday.
Newspaper headlines summed up the anger and frustration in India over the latest round of violence to strike the country.
“India's enemies strike Hyderabad,” said the Hindustan Times, while tabloid Mail Today said: “Serial Terror Returns to Hyderabad.”
In May 2007, at least 11 people were killed in a blast at a mosque in Hyderabad and five more died when police fired at Muslim protesters.
Months later in August, at least 40 people were killed in Hyderabad when two blasts hit an auditorium and an outdoor restaurant.
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, the top civil servant in India's external affairs ministry, did not rule out foreign involvement. “I am not sure there is any evidence it could be homegrown terrorism,” he said in Washington on Thursday.
New US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a tweet that he had expressed his sympathies for the “brave people” of Hyderabad when he met Mathai in Washington.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon “strongly condemn(ed) the indiscriminate attacks” while Hugo Swire, a minister in Britain's foreign office who is currently in India, said the attacks were “a shocking reminder of the terrorist threat this country faces”. - Sapa-AFP