DEEWANA: Two bombs exploded aboard a train bound from India to Pakistan, sparking a fire that killed at least 66 passengers on19 February 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 suitcase bombs were also found on the train, one of them still lying by the side of the track the morning after the blast.An electronic timer encased in clear plastic was packed in the case next to a bag of yellow sulphur and a dozen or more plastic bottles containing what police said was a cocktail of fuel oils and chemicals.
Police said while the explosions were small, they were apparently intended to cause fires 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 the doors and emergency exit windows. Local villagers also rushed to the scene to help passengers.
“I took a visa to come to India and see relatives, but I never realised 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 burnt 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 (1830 GMT) on 18 February.
Carriages were blackened and gutted, paint peeled off with the heat. Burnt clothes, shoes and bags littered the floor.
“I haven’t seen anything like this, some bodies were burnt 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. Passengers were due to get off there and transfer to a Pakistani train.
Relatives gathered at railway stations in Old Delhi and in the Pakistani city of Lahore for news.
“My mother, father and brother are on the train. They went to Attari for a wedding,” said Israel Mohammed in Delhi, tears streaming down his face. “I am trying to call them on their mobiles but their mobiles are not working.”
The incident came just 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.
Kasuri condemned what he called a “horrendous act of terrorism” and said he would go ahead with his trip. He added the bombers should not be allowed to achieve their objective.
“In fact, if at all, we should hasten the peace process,” he told reporters in Islamabad.
India’s foreign ministry said it was doing everything it could to help Pakistani relatives of the victims and would issue visas urgently to those who wanted to visit.
The attack happened 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 said 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 neighbours.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed “anguish and grief” at the loss of life and vowed to catch the culprits, according to a statement.
The Mumbai stock market shrugged off the news, its main index rising in afternoon trade.
“Incidents such as these are increasingly becoming a fact of life, and we have learned to live with them,” said C.K. Narayan, an analyst with ICICI Securities.