Monday, February 19, 2007

At least 64 killed in India-Pakistan train blasts

At least 64 killed in India-Pakistan train blasts
By Y.P. Rajesh

DEEWANA, India (Reuters) - Two homemade bombs exploded aboard a train bound from India to Pakistan sparking a fire that killed at least 66 passengers on Monday in what the Indian government called an "act of terrorism".

Most of the victims were Pakistanis but included some Indians and three railway policemen, said officials who described the attack as an apparent attempt to undermine the peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Two other unexploded homemade bombs were also found on the train.

Television pictures showed one large plastic suitcase with wires and a plastic bottle attached. Another was stuffed with plastic bottles, which officials said contained some kind of flammable liquid.

Police said while the explosions were small, they were apparently intended to cause a deadly fire on at least four of the train's coaches.

"It's sabotage -- it's an act of terrorism like the one in Mumbai," Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav told reporters, referring to serial bomb blasts in Mumbai last July that killed 186 people.

Like all Indian trains, most of the windows in the lower class compartments were barred with metal rods, meaning many people were trapped inside the train.

One survivor said passersby pulled some survivors out of one of the few windows that did not have rods. Local villagers also rushed to the scene to try and break open the bars. "I took a visa to come to India and see relatives, but I never realized it would become the last journey for my family," said Tara Chand, whose three sons and two daughters are missing and feared dead.

He was returning to Pakistan after a month in India.


At least 13 people were also injured, with several arriving at a New Delhi hospital, their faces burned and bandaged.

Two coaches of the Samjhauta Express train, which connects New Delhi to the northern Pakistani city of Lahore, erupted in flames near Deewana town, about 80 km (50 miles) north of the Indian capital, around midnight on Sunday night (1830 GMT).

Carriages were blackened and gutted with the heat of the fire.

"I haven't seen anything like this, some bodies were burned beyond recognition, and I saw one pair stuck to each other at the stomach," railway police inspector Shiv Ram told Reuters.

The rest of the train, which had been carrying around 600 passengers, continued on Monday to the border town of Attari after the burned coaches had been detached. Passengers were due to alight there and transfer to a Pakistani train.

Relatives gathered at Old Delhi railway station for news of family members. A bulletin board had the names of the 13 injured passengers, but little news on the dead.

"My mother, father and brother are on the train. They went to Attari for a wedding," said Israel Mohammed, tears streaming down his face. "I am trying to call them on their mobiles but their mobiles are not working."

The incident came days before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri was due in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders to push forward the slow-moving peace process.

"The aim is clear," Yadav told a news conference in his home city of Patna. "It is to put hurdles into the path of the peace process that has started between the two neighboring countries -- India and Pakistan."

Pakistan's government said the attack was unlikely to derail Kasuri's visit and said it was in touch with Indian authorities.

India's foreign ministry said it was doing everything it could help Pakistani relatives of the victims and would issue visas urgently to those who wanted to visit.


The attack happened just days before the fifth anniversary of a fire on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims that killed 59 people in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat, and sparked communal riots in which around 2,500 people died, most of them Muslims.

That fire was blamed at the time on Muslims, but some subsequent inquiries have suggested it could have been accidental.

Samjhauta is Hindi for understanding or agreement. The rail link was severed after an attack on New Delhi's parliament in late 2001. It started up again in 2004.

While a hardline Hindu group had threatened to disrupt the service in 2000, suspicion for this attack is also likely to fall on Muslim extremists opposed to the peace process between the South Asian rivals.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed "anguish and grief" at the loss of life and vowed to catch the culprits, according to a statement from his office.