Image: Fire near Indian blast site
Anupam Nath  /  AP
A man tries to extinguish flaming motorcycles near one of several blast site in Gauhati, India, on Thursday.
updated 10/30/2008 2:27:47 PM ET 2008-10-30T18:27:47

A series of coordinated blasts tore through India's volatile northeast on Thursday, killing at least 61 people, wounding more than 300 and setting police on a frantic search for any unexploded bombs, officials said.

One bomb exploded near the office of the Assam state's top government official in the largest blast, leaving bodies and mangled cars and motorcycles strewn across the road.

Bystanders dragged the wounded and dead to cars that took them to hospitals. Police officers covered the burned remains of the dead with white sheets, leaving them in the street.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the 13 blasts that went off within minutes of each other, but the region is torn by dozens of militant separatist groups that have long fought the government and one another.

At least 25 people were killed in five explosions in the state capital, Gauhati, said Subhash Das, a senior official in the state's Home Ministry. Dozens were also killed in blasts in the Kokrajhar district and in the town of Barpeta.

'Building started shaking'
The largest blast took place a few hundred yards from the secretariat, the building housing the offices of the state's chief minister. Television footage showed firefighters spraying streams of water at charred, twisted cars and motorcycles.

"I was shopping near the secretariat when I heard three to four loud explosions. Windowpanes in the shops shattered and we fell to the ground as the building started shaking," said H.K. Dutt, who was lightly wounded by shrapnel.

"I stood up and saw fire and smoke billowing out, then I looked down and saw blood on my shirt," Dutt said.

N.I. Hussain, Gauhati's deputy inspector general of police, told the CNN-IBN news channel that police in the state were on high alert and searching for more unexploded bombs.

"There may be more blasts. You never know," he said.

Officials were quick to blame the region's largest separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom.

"The needle of suspicion is on ULFA," said Assam government spokesman Himanta Biswa Sharma.

Similar to earlier attacks
However, ULFA has never carried out an attack of this size and complexity, which closely resembles the serial attacks that have rocked three other Indian cities this year, killing more than 120 people — attacks claimed by a previously unknown Indian Islamic militant group.

"Going by the nature, planning and magnitude of the blasts we need to find out if ULFA has been assisted by other terror groups ... at home or abroad," said Das.

ULFA spokesman Anjan Borehaur denied his organization had any role in the attacks in an e-mail sent to journalists.

Later, dozens of people angry over the blasts took to the streets of the state capital, stoning vehicles and torching at least two fire engines. Police imposed a curfew on the city and shut down roads leading in and out of the area.

Dozens of militant separatist groups are active in India's northeast, an isolated region wedged between Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar with only a thin corridor connecting it to the rest of India.

The separatists accuse the central government in New Delhi, 1,000 miles to the west, of exploiting the region's natural resources while doing little for the indigenous people — most of whom are ethnically closer to Burma and China than to the rest of India.

Ethnic clashes
More than 10,000 people have died in separatist violence over the past decade in the region.

The area also has been hit recently by ethnic clashes. At least 49 people were killed in July in violence between members of the native Bodo tribe and recent migrants to the area, most of whom are Muslims.

The government has blamed several previous serial attacks in India on Islamic militants from nearby Bangladesh.

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