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India shocked by cafe bomb

Residents of the Indian city of Pune expressed shock Sunday after a bomb attack on a popular restaurant in the educational hub which killed nine people.

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“We have never seen anything like this. Pune was just not prepared for this,” said Vikram Jha, a student at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southeast of Mumbai.

Students were among the 30 people wounded in the blast Saturday evening in the city, which is home to more than 100 educational institutes and nine universities.

“One of my friends has been badly hit with shrapnel wounds. Another one has been hit on his leg,” Jha said outside the Inlaks and Budhrani Hospital, where some of the wounded were taken after the attack on the German Bakery.

Jha and fellow law student Aditya Vardhani were to meet a larger group of friends near the restaurant.

“We had all planned to meet at KP (Koregaon Park), and go to a prom-night,” Jha told AFP. “Our friends need blood desperately”.

“This was the place we always gathered after college. This is not right, we do not understand what is happening,” Vardhani said.

The streets were deserted and security tightened at the blast site.

Pune is seen as a “soft target” compared to the bigger Indian cities of Mumbai and the capital New Delhi, which have both suffered deadly terrorist attacks in the past decade.

The city also has a growing industrial hinterland, with many IT and automotive companies setting up factories in the area.

Bomb kills one foreigner, eight Indians

The bomb ripped through a restaurant popular with tourists in the western Indian city, casting a shadow over the resumption of Indo-Pakistan peace talks.

At least one foreigner – believed to be a Taiwanese national – was among the dead, according to Pune Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, who said 45 people had been injured, some of them seriously.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s blast, which India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram described as “a significant terrorist incident”.

“All the evidence points to a deliberate plot,” Chidambaram said.

It was the first major attack on Indian soil since the November 2008 Mumbai massacre – blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group – which had prompted New Delhi to suspend dialogue with Islamabad.

The South Asian rivals had agreed just last week to resume talks, and the Pune blast triggered immediate opposition calls for that decision to be reviewed.

The bomb went off in the German Bakery – an established eatery in the Koregaon Park area of the city – at about 7.30pm local time.

Waiter opened suspect package

“It appears that an unattended package was noticed… by one of the waiters who apparently went and attempted to open the package when the blast took place,” Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai told reporters in New Delhi.

An eyewitness interviewed by the CNN-IBN news channel described a scene of carnage, with body parts littered around the immediate site of the blast.

“There is no German Bakery any more,” he said. “There were bodies everywhere. We tried to help carry them into the ambulances.”

Pune is about 100km southeast of Mumbai, and the blast carried certain echoes of the 2008 attack on India’s financial capital by 10 Islamist gunmen that killed 166 people.

Restaurant near other ‘ targets’

The German Bakery is only 200m from an ashram, or religious retreat, specialising in meditation courses run by a Swiss-based firm Osho International.

The bakery was also close to Chabad House, a Jewish cultural and religious centre run by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement whose members were targeted in the Mumbai attacks.

Rabbi Betzalel Kupchik, from Pune Chabad House, told AFP: “Everyone here is okay. We are on the same street. We are some minutes’ walk away. We heard the bomb.”

The Mumbai assault was carried out by 10 Islamist extremists who stormed a number of high profile sites, including two luxury hotels, the city’s main railway station and a popular restaurant.

A total of 166 people were killed, including 25 foreigners, and more than 300 others injured in a 60-hour orgy of violence.

The attacks’ sole surviving gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, is currently on trial at a high security prison court in Mumbai, charged with a raft of offences, including “waging war against India”, murder and attempted murder.

Prakash Jawadekar, a spokesman for the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said the government should now reconsider the resumption of talks with Pakistan which has been scheduled for February 25.

“Terror and talks cannot go together,” Jawadekar told reporters after visiting the blast site in Pune.