Buddhist UNESCO World Heritage site in India suffers terrorist attack

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mahabodhi Temple in December, 2006.
Image: Cacahuate.

A 'terrorist attack' took place yesterday in the form of reportedly at least four explosions at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India. Four other explosions took place in the vicinity, including one near an eighty-foot tall statue of Buddha and three at Tergar Monastery. Three other bombs were discovered and all were diffused. Early reports claim little damage was done to the temple. Two Buddhist monks were injured. Police commented that Sundays are quiet days at the temple, or more could have been injured. One suspect has been arrested based on closed circuit television that recorded two men placing bombs at the temple.

Mahabodhi Temple is considered one of the holiest sites in Buddhism and in India. Totaling twelve acres, it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is located next to the Bodhi tree, where Buddhists believe that Buddha achieved enlightenment. The bombs were described as "low-intensity but not crude," according to police. The bombs used comprised of a small container with gas, a detonator, and an analog clock. The bombs were timed to explode at 5:45 AM local time, when Buddhists start praying in the morning. The bombs actually went off starting at 5:25 AM and ending at 5:58 AM local time. Early reports state that while the temple suffered little damage, the staircase near the Bodhi tree suffered damage and windows were broken. The Bodhi tree suffered no damage. 200 monks live at the monastery, where daily classes take place during the times when the explosions happened. However, no classes were being held the morning of the attack.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has declared the explosions an act of terrorism. In October members of the Indian Mujahideen claimed to have visited Mahabodhi Temple to plan a terrorist attack. That led to the arrests of four suspects involved in the Indian Mujahideen, who were believed to have been involved in the 2012 Pune bombings. The four suspects named other members of the terrorist group and claimed that they planned to attack Mahabodhi Temple. The police in Delhi claim to have told the police in Bihar about the potential of a terrorist attack. Political conflict has risen in the wake of the attacks between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress. BJP is accusing the United Progressive Alliance, which is under the umbrella of the Indian National Congress, of ignoring the Indian Mujahideen's threats about attacking the temple.

The Ministry also believes that it could be tied to conflicts in Myanmar between Buddhists and Muslims, despite the rarity of violence against Buddhists in India. Additional security has been placed at Buddhist temples and Tibetan communities in India after the explosions. One suspect, Vinod Mistri, was arrested on Monday morning in Patna.