Source AP ©

Blast at Muslim shrine in northern India kills two people and wounds 17

Police interrogated Indian and Bangladeshi pilgrims Friday after a blast at a venerated Muslim shrine in northern India killed two people and wounded 17 others, officials said.

The blast, which targeted the shrine of a 12th century Sufi saint in the town of Ajmer, took place just after dusk on Thursday as hundreds of men and women broke the daily fasts they observe during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Police and intelligence agencies are interrogating suspected people, even pilgrims of Bangladesh origin besides investigation by forensic and state crime branch experts," senior police officer Kanihya Lal told the Press Trust of India news agency, adding that no arrests had been made.

Naveen Mahajan, a senior government official in the area confirmed that several people were being interrogated, but gave no details, saying only that investigators had no definite leads yet.

India has routinely blamed Pakistani and Bangladeshi-based Islamic militants for a series of attacks that have rocked the country over the last two years, including several at mosques, saying they were trying to provoke violence between India's majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

However, little concrete proof has been provided in the past and both Pakistan and Bangladesh have denied the involvement of their nationals in the attacks.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed that the government would take a tough stance against terror attacks but said the government had a tough time protecting shrines like these.

"They have the advantage of surprise it is not possible to protect each soft target," Singh said speaking at a conference in New Delhi. "But let there be no mistake about our resolve to meet this challenge head on," he said.

The blast at the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti took place shortly after 6 p.m. (1230 GMT), around the time for evening prayers, when the sprawling white-marble shrine was packed with hundreds of worshippers.

It also came days ahead of Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The holiday is to be celebrated on Saturday or Sunday depending on when the new moon is spotted.

Chishti, the saint, is known as the benefactor of the poor, and his shrine, like many sufi monuments in India, attracts people of all faiths.

The blasts immediately drew comparisons to the bombing in May of a mosque in the southern city of Hyderabad - an attack that killed 11 people.

Ajmer is predominantly Muslim but is surrounded by Hindu areas.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's population, and Muslims, who account for about 130 million of India's 1.1 billion people, have been relatively peaceful since the bloody partition of the subcontinent into India and Muslim Pakistan at independence from Britain in 1947. But there have been sporadic bouts of violence.

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