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India and Pakistan condemn train blasts

At least 65 killed in double bomb attack

DIWANA, India: A pair of homemade bombs exploded on a train headed for Pakistan from India about midnight Sunday, trapping slumbering passengers in flames and complicating anew the strained relationship between the two South Asian rivals.

By the time the bodies were pulled out of the Attari Express, they were so thoroughly burned that it proved difficult to tell who they were, let alone whether they were Indian or Pakistani.

At least 65 bodies were carried out. Thirteen survivors somehow made it out of two burning train cars, including an infant and a small, thin man of 60, named Kamruddin, from Multan, Pakistan, who thanked God as an ambulance carried him away to an Indian government hospital in New Delhi on Monday.

He recalled having made his way to the door of his car and having someone pull him out.

Twelve hours later, the two cars were still smoldering.

On Monday, the office of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, called the bombing "an act of terror" and promised to apprehend those responsible.

The Pakistani government also swiftly condemned it. The incident came just before the planned visit of the Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, to the Indian capital of New Delhi, and two weeks before officials from both countries were to meet for the first time to share information on terror-related activities.

Peace talks between India and Pakistan have crawled along for three years, yielding little more than agreement on transportation links like this cross-border rail line.

The two countries last stepped close to the brink of war in early 2002. Between them, they have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947.

"This is an act of sabotage," the Indian railroad minister, Laloo Prasad, said in the eastern city of Patna, according to wire-service reports.

"This is an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan."

The overnight train, en route from Delhi to the border post of Attari, began service 30 years ago, and after a two- year suspension during a period of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, resumed service in January 2004. From Attari, passengers would board a second train that would take them across the border to Lahore, Pakistan.

The explosion that set off the fire took place about a kilometer and a half, or one mile, from the tiny railroad station here called Diwana, amid fields of wheat. Three other bombs were found inside other cars on the train and defused, said Rajiv Saxena, a spokesman for Indian Railways.

There was no information available on what kind of explosives were used or who was responsible.

The spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Navtej Sarna, said that visas would be issued to Pakistani relatives of those who were feared dead.

The train bombing came almost exactly five years after a fire on a train killed 59 Hindu pilgrims in western Gujarat State, leading to some of the worst communal carnage in Indian history, in which at least 1,100 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Last July, a series of synchronized bombs went off on commuter trains in Mumbai, India's commercial capital, killing about 180 people.

In this latest attack, the bombs went off inside two cars toward the back of the train shortly after it left Diwana station at 11:53 p.m. on Sunday, two officials at the station said.

By the time the first fire trucks had arrived, the two cars were ablaze, and the air smelled of burning plastic and flesh, said B.D. Ahuja, the fire station officer in the nearby town of Panipat.

The fire was so powerful that firefighters initially had to douse the flames from 6 meters, or 20 feet, away.

Satya Narain Sharma, a firefighter who was among the first to reach the scene, at 12:10 am, said that when rescuers tried to pry open the first door, it had refused to budge. Behind it, they later found a pile of bodies, all apparently of passengers who tried to escape.

At the Old Delhi train station, distraught friends and relatives began gathering before dawn in hopes of finding out who had been killed and who had escaped alive, but at the emergency assistance booth on Platform 15, officials did not have much information to share.

Muhammad Aslam, a bangle manufacturer who accompanied five of his cousins to the train on Sunday night, said his repeated requests for information had been turned away by station staff.

"They keep saying 'How can we give you information when we know nothing ourselves?'" he said.

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