At least two persons were killed and 52 were injured in an explosion on Sunday at an event of Christian sect Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Samra International Convention Center in Kalamassery area of Kochi in Kerala.
The police have said that one person has surrendered and has claimed responsibility for the blast. The police said that the claim is being investigated.
Of the 52 injured, Kerala Health Minister Veena George said six are in critical condition and 12 others are in intensive care unit (ICU).
What do we know about the blast?
The blast took place around 9.40 am when the Jehovah’s Witnesses event was about to start with a prayer. The blast was around five meters away from the stage and two more blasts were heard after the first one, according to the witnesses.
The police have said that the preliminary investigation suggests it to be an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. It further said that a person, identifying as a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, has claimed responsibility for the blast and has surrendered to the police.
Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) Shiek Darvesh Sahib said, “Preliminary investigation suggests that it was an IED blast and we have retrieved traces of it. Further details will be revealed after a detailed investigation. We will find out who is behind the blast and will take stringent action. People are advised to refrain from making provocative social media posts, those who indulge in such activities will be dealt with stringently.”
Separately, Kerala Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) MR Ajith Kumar said, “A man surrendered to the Police claiming responsibility. He is identified as Dominic Martin, and he has presented some evidence to support his claim. He is being interrogated in detail. He is a follower of this particular sect [Jehovah's Witnesses]. We need further investigation into this. It’s too early to get to conclusions.”
The man who surrendered to the police, and identified himself as Martin, posted a video on Facebook before his surrender. The video appears to have been removed from the platform now.
In the video, the man claiming himself to be Martin, says he used to be a follower of the Jehovah’s Witnesses but realised that the sect’s path was wrong. He says he argued with the sect and tried to convince them they were wrong, but he was ignored. In the video, the man also says that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that everyone outside of their sect is a sinner and he tried to convince them this spreads hate and is wrong. When the sect did not listen to him, he decided to carry out the act, says the man in the video.
The police have yet to verify the man's claims or the authenticity of the video. ADGP Kumar has said “we need further investigation” regarding the man’s claims and “it is too early” to arrive at any conclusion.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were at the convention centre for the second day of a three-day event. Around 2,300 people were in attendance.
While initially, the number of injured was said to be 36, Kerala Health Minister Veena George later updated the toll to 52.
"Fifty-two people admitted to different hospitals. Thirty people are admitted here [Government Medical College, Ernakulam], out of which 18 are in ICU and six are critically injured. Among those 6, one is a 12-year-old child. The rest of the injured are in other private hospitals. The dead person has not been identified yet," said George to media.
How have leaders reacted to the blast?
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is in Delhi, said that he could not divulge any information at the moment.
He said, “It’s an unfortunate incident and the government is taking it very seriously. I cannot divulge anything on the nature of the blast now. Will inform you once we have further details.”
Vijayan also called an all-party meeting at 10 am on Monday at the Secretariat complex.
M V Govindan, state secretary of Vijayan’s CPI(M), termed the blast an act of terror and linked it to the ongoing Israel-Hamas War. He said, “Looking at it politically, we can see it as a terror attack. This could be to divert the attention from the support that Palestine is getting from the state.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah called Vijayan to assess the situation.
Separately, Union minister V Muraleedharan said, “The government should do everything to nab the culprits behind it. The union government is watching closely and the central agencies are on the case already.”
Eyewitness accounts of the incident
“Three explosions happened one after the other in the middle of the hall, causing a big fire. A woman with severe burns died on the spot and many others were hurt as they tried to get out of the hall in a hurry,” said an eye-witness.
“I was at the convention with my family, including the kids. When the blast and the fire started, I did my best to get the kids out safely. One of the kids’ clothes caught fire, but, thankfully, we managed to put it out. It was the scariest moment I’ve ever been through,” said a man who identified himself as Devassy Kutty.
Another eyewitness said, “I saw two people rolling on the floor with their dress on fire.”