Series of explosions hit Soweto township

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The Independent Online

A series of bomb blasts rocked the poor South African township of Soweto today, killing one person, ripping a hole in a mosque and damaging several railway stations and rail lines running into nearby Johannesburg.

Authorities said they were investigating whether right-wing militant groups were responsible for the attacks, and they put police on high alert throughout the province of Gauteng.

Nine bombs exploded and police said they had disabled another one.

"We all pray that there won't be any more," said a police official, Henriette Bester. "It's daylight now, and the darkness shielded whoever had been responsible for this."

Police fanned out across the massive township and began searching public places, including schools, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"The kinds of explosive used cannot be determined at this stage. It is unknown who is responsible, no one is claiming responsibility and no arrests have been made," Bester said.

Nomvula Mokonyane, the provincial minister for safety and security, told Radio 702 police were investigating the possibility extreme right-wing militant groups were behind the attacks.

"There will be investigations on everything. Nothing will be left unattended to," she said.

In recent weeks, police have discovered several weapons caches, including homemade bombs, and arrested 14 people accused of involvement in a white, extremist plot to attack the government.

The men, whom police described as a "maverick, isolated group intending to destabilize the country," were scheduled to go on trial next year. Authorities say the ringleaders remained at large.

The first bomb exploded about 11:55 p.m. Tuesday, ripping a hole in a mosque, Bester said.

Soon after midnight, four more bombs blew up near a railway station, she said. A pair of bombs exploded at another station, and another pair on a third rail line.

A 42-year-old woman was killed as she slept when debris from one blast hit her squatter shack, Bester said. The woman's 51-year-old husband sustained head injuries and was in serious but stable condition.

A 10th bomb was found at a nearby garage and defused by a bomb disposal unit.

Local and national law enforcement officials held an emergency meeting in Soweto to discuss the situation.

Mokonyane said the attack was "quite disturbing, very shocking, and it deserves the condemnation of all South Africans."

"This is actually against our own democracy," she said. "We cannot ... allow this kind of anarchy."

The explosions severely damaged several local rail lines, shrouding the morning commute in confusion.

Rail authorities planned to run shuttle buses for commuters.

The opposition Democratic Alliance condemned the blasts as "cowardly and outrageous acts of pathetic and hopeless people."

"We urge all Johannesburg's citizens to unite in rejection of this violence," it said.

Soweto is a sprawling black township of about 1.5 million people south of Johannesburg that includes a diverse patchwork of neighborhoods, from squatter camps to areas of new wealth.

Many of the townships residents depend on the railway line to get the jobs in Johannesburg.

South Africa's racist, white apartheid regime ended with the country's first all-race elections in 1994. A very small minority of whites strongly oppose the country's multiracial democracy and advocate a return to the old regime.