Police in northern India have arrested five suspects in connection with a series of homemade bomb explosions this week near Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in Sikhism.
Gaurav Yadav, police deputy commissioner in the state of Punjab, told a news conference Thursday that the blasts on May 6, May 8 and near midnight on May 10 occurred outside the temple, which houses Sikhism’s holy scripture.
In the first incident last Saturday, one of the suspects detonated a makeshift bomb containing about 200 grams of explosives after lowering it in a bag from the top of a building, he said.
The second bomb was detonated in a similar way in the dawn hours of Monday, he added. Police did not provide further details of the third explosion, or confirm the total number of injuries.
The Golden Temple is one of Punjab’s top attractions, famous for its gold-encrusted dome and surrounding clear waters. It has also witnessed violence in the past – the Indian army stormed the temple in 1984 and killed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a leader of an outlawed separatist movement that seeks to establish a sovereign state for Sikhs called Khalistan.
And last January, a man was allegedly beaten to death after entering the temple, grabbing a bejeweled ceremonial sword and swinging it over his head – before being overpowered by devotees.
Yadav said police used CCTV footage from the third explosion to track down the suspects and make arrests on Thursday.
Two of the five suspects are accused of assembling the bombs and carrying out the explosions, while the other two allegedly helped supply the materials; police are also questioning the wife of one suspect. Police have seized their electronic devices and phones, Yadav said.
The five suspects “have confessed that they were behind all three explosions,” Yadav said, calling the arrests a “breakthrough.”
Sikhs are a minority in India, but account for nearly 60% of Punjab’s 28 million population. They are among a number of minority groups to express concerns over a rise in hate crimes in recent years amid simmering religious tensions in the country.
Yadav said it was too early to speculate about a motive for the blasts and an investigation was ongoing.
“After detailed questioning, we will establish their motive. Why this location was selected … we will examine all the material we have from them,” he said.