GAUHATI, India – A series of coordinated blasts tore through towns and cities in India's northeastern state of Assam on Thursday, killing at least 48 people and wounding more than 300, officials said.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the 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.
Five blasts hit the state capital, Gauhati, killing 25, said Subhash Das, a senior official in the state's Home Ministry. Eleven were killed in Kokrajhar district and 12 more died in the town of Barpeta. At least 300 people were injured when the 13 blasts, most caused by bombs and at least one from a hand grenade, hit the state, he said.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene of the biggest blast, which took place a few hundred yards (meters) from the secretariat, the building housing the offices of the state's chief minister, said flames were leaping from charred cars, bodies were strewn across the road and a thick stream of black smoke was rising above the city.
Television footage showed firefighters spraying streams of water at charred, twisted cars and motorcycles that littered the blackened road.
Bystanders dragged the wounded and dead to cars that took them to hospitals, while police officers covered the burned remains of the dead with white sheets, leaving them in the street.
"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 and realized I had been injured," 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.
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 (1,600 kilometers) 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.
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.