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Samjhauta Express firebombed, 67 killed

Praveen Swami

Suitcase bombs intended to kill by fire, not explosion; Rs. 10 lakh for next of kin of each of the deceased

— Photo: AP

TRAGIC TURN: The Delhi-Wagah Samjhauta Express in flames after explosions rocked it near Panipat, Haryana, before midnight on Sunday.

PANIPAT: At least 67 people were killed and 50 injured when two firebombs went off on the New Delhi-Wagah Samjhauta Express just before midnight on Sunday. Most of the dead, including three children, are Pakistani citizens: the first civilians of that country to have died in a terrorist strike on Indian soil.

The attack comes a day ahead of Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri's three-day official visit to Delhi.

Investigators believe the perpetrators of the terror strike intended that the bombing be mistaken for an arson attack - a deception they hoped would deflect suspicion away from them.

Forensic tests on three unexploded suitcase-bombs found on the train will take at least 48 hours to complete, but a senior intelligence official told The Hindu that investigators have been able to determine that the devices were cleverly designed to start a fire. "They were incendiary devices," he said, "rather than explosive devices."

"Whoever carried out this attack," the official said, "hoped that it would be interpreted as arson. Many in Pakistan would have blamed Hindu fundamentalists for the attack. India would have suspected terrorists, but few in Pakistan would have believed its claims. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, and fortunately for us, three devices failed to work."

Forensic findings

Bottles filled with kerosene and then packed with cotton-wool were recovered from the three unexploded devices. Digital travel alarm clocks linked to a circuit-controlled detonator were used to control the timing of the ignition. A severed wire has been established, in one case, as the cause of the firebomb's failure to ignite.

The absence of an explosion meant the driver of the Samjhauta Express did not realise there was a fire until he was alerted by station staff at Deewana, near Panipat.

Passengers said the train kept moving for over fifteen minutes after the fire broke out, delaying their escape from the two burning compartments.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad who visited the site and Safdarjung hospital in Delhi, admitted that poor security facilitated the strike. However, he noted that station authorities do not possess baggage-screening equipment.

An official inquiry into the bombings will look into measures to improve security, but Railway Police officials say that screening of all passenger baggage may not be possible.

Mr. Prasad announced a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh for the next of the kin of each of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 for the injured. Investigators plan to question survivors to see if any of them saw the suitcases being planted on the train. Since doors and vestibules are closed on the Samjhauta Express, it is almost certain that the bombs were planted in New Delhi, most likely by a perpetrator who did not board the train.

Technically, the ill-fated train is the Delhi-Attari Special (4001 UP), though it is commonly known as the Samjhauta Express.

All passengers on the Special train alight at Attari, on the Indian side of the border, from where they catch another train to travel three kilometres to Wagah in Pakistan. Investigators say the fact that most witnesses are Pakistani nationals will pose an unusual challenge.

"Many of the survivors we need to speak to will soon be in Pakistan," a senior Ministry of Home Affairs official told The Hindu.

"This investigation will be a real test of India-Pakistan counter-terrorism cooperation," he said.

Helpline numbers

The Railways has set up telephone helplines to provide information on the Samjhauta Express tragedy.

They are: New Delhi Railway Station — 011-23341074 and 23342954; Headquarter (New Delhi) — 011-23389319, 23389853 and 23385106; Hazrat Nizamuddin — 011-24355954; Ambala — 1072 (local helpline number), 0171-2610329 and 2611072; Amritsar — 0183-2223171 and 2564485; Ludhiana — 0161-2760006; Jalandhar — 0181-2223504; at the site — 0180-3297823 and 6450342.

Related Stories:
Peace and the burning train
Keep the peace process on track
Kalam, PM discuss blast
Kasuri's visit as scheduled

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