New Delhi — A bomb exploded outside one of India’s largest and most sacred mosques Friday, killing at least 11 people and seriously injuring 35, officials said.
The explosion at the expansive Mecca Masjid, in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, happened at 1:30 p.m. as crowded Friday prayers were ending, witnesses said. The blast was set off in the entrance of the marble-floored mosque, where worshipers wash for prayers. About 10,000 people were attending services at the time.
Two other unexploded bombs were defused by police, Indian television and wire services reported. The mosque’s heavy stone protected more people from being killed, police said.
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Witnesses said that waves of people pelted the police with stones, chanting angrily that there was a lack of security for Muslims in this majority-Hindu country.
Television images showed police in riot gear dispersing thick crowds of men and boys in white prayer caps, spraying tear gas and, in some cases, beating back the crowds with batons so the wounded could be treated. Crowds of men in bloodstained white shirts clamored onto ambulances. Two people were killed after police fired live ammunition to quell the riots, the Associated Press reported.
“There were people running every which way, and they were very angry since the mosque is one of the most sacred in India,” said Danesh Akula, bureau chief in Hyderabad for Star News, who was at the mosque shortly after the blasts. “It could be a very dangerous situation.”
The attack was the second within a year on a mosque in India. In September, explosions near a mosque in the western town of Malegaon left 31 people dead during Shab-e-Barat, also called the night of atonement or forgiveness, a Muslim religious event in which people offer prayers for the souls of dead relatives in graveyards. Last year, two explosions at New Delhi’s main mosque, Jama Masjid, wounded 10 people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh state. Some officials called the attack an attempt by “antisocial elements” to spark violence in India, which has a long history of communal strife between Hindus and Muslims.
In a statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “urged members of all communities to maintain peace and communal harmony.”
In July, bombs exploded on seven commuter trains in Mumbai, the country’s financial and cultural capital formerly known as Bombay, killing more than 200 people in India’s worst terrorist attack in 13 years.
India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population. However, the estimated 130 million Muslims here are a minority in a country of 1.1 billion people, 80 percent of them Hindu.