In a tragic incident, multiple explosions occurred during a Jehovah's Witnesses prayer meeting in Kalamassery, Kerala, resulting in the death of one woman and injuries to at least 50 individuals.
The incident occurred on Sunday morning, October 29, during a Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Zamra International Convention Centre in Kalamassery, about 10 kilometres northeast of Kochi city, with over 2,000 people in attendance over the three-day event.
The blasts, according to media reports, took place around 9:40 am and led to a swift response from authorities. Kerala’s Director General of Police, Darvesh Saheb, confirmed the casualty and the injuries in a statement to reporters. Videos posted online captured the immediate aftermath, revealing flames inside the convention centre and rescuers assisting in the evacuation.
Eyewitnesses, including a delegate from nearby Kolenchery, provided insights into the sequence of events as reported by The Hindu newspaper. The explosion was accompanied by a distinct smell of burning plastic, followed by a deafening sound as per the report. Subsequent blasts triggered panic among the worshippers, who rushed to exit the hall.
Media reported three separate blasts during the prayer gathering, hitting different areas of the convention hall. TA Sreekumar, regional spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, described the explosions occurring seconds after the end of a prayer session.
“The explosions occurred seconds after the end of a prayer as part of the day’s event. The first blast took place in the middle of the hall. Seconds later, two more explosions rocked simultaneously on either side of the hall,” Sreekumar, told mathrubhumi.com.
Amid the investigation, a startling development emerged as a former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dominic Martin, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack and surrendered to the law enforcement officers. The police has also shifted focus to the inner workings of the religious organisation, characterised by some as almost cult-like, with a significant presence in Kerala.
Simultaneously, according to reports, the police are also pursuing leads related to a suspicious car leaving the area before the explosion and examining potential links to radical organisations opposed to international evangelical groups.
The man who admitted to the act and hails from Kochi is currently being interrogated by law enforcement officers after surrendering in Thrissur district. Initial questioning will be followed by detailed interrogation by a senior police official. The situation is under control, and authorities are conducting a thorough investigation, according to Ernakulam District Collector N S K Umesh who spoke to Reuters.
Kerala's health minister, Veena George, provided updates on casualties, confirming the death of a woman at the scene and hospitalisation of 52 others, including 18 in the intensive care unit. The injured, including a child, were admitted to a private hospital near the blast site. Reports indicate that the condition of five individuals is serious, with all sustaining burn injuries.
Preliminary investigation suggested the use of an improvised explosive device. The National Security Guard, India's counter-terrorism unit, dispatched an eight-member team to investigate. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the incident unfortunate and called for an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on October 30.
As authorities probe into the details surrounding the explosion, questions remain about the motives and circumstances. The Jehovah's Witnesses community, known for their door-to-door evangelism, now finds itself in the midst of a national investigation, grappling with the aftermath of a tragic event.
While Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves Christians, their beliefs deviate from core Christian doctrines, and they are generally viewed as a cult by mainstream Christian groups. There are only about 60,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses followers in India.