66 Die in India-Pakistan Train Attack

The Associated Press
Monday, February 19, 2007; 2:47 AM

DEWANA, India -- An explosion on a train headed for Pakistan set off a fire that swept through two cars and killed at least 66 people in an attack that a government minister said was aimed at undermining the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Authorities said two suitcases packed with unexploded crude bombs and bottles of gasoline were found in cars not hit in the attack, leading them to suspect the fire was set off by an identical explosive device.

"This is an act of sabotage," Railway Minister Laloo Prasad told reporters in Patna, India. "This is an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan."

India's junior home Minster, Sriprakash Jaiswal, said the homemade bombs were not powerful, and were simply intended to start a fire on the train, one day before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri was to arrive in New Delhi for talks on the ongoing peace process.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said there were "all kinds of terrorists" who may have been behind the attack but said it was too early to speculate about the possible motive.

"We expect the Indian authorities to conduct a full investigation and punish those responsible for this heinous act of terrorism," she said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed anguish and grief at the loss of lives and said that "the culprits will be caught," a brief statement by his office said.

The fire engulfed two cars of the Samjhauta Express, one of two train links between India and Pakistan. As on most Indian trains, the windows of many cars are barred. In addition, investigators say at least one of the doors of the two burning carriages was fused shut by the heat of the flames, trapping some passengers inside.

"From the less damaged coach, some people were seen jumping out with their bodies on fire," Bharti Arora, superintendent of the Haryana state railway police, told reporters.

The explosion and fire struck just before the train reached the station in the village of Dewana, about 50 miles north of New Delhi. In a stretch of nearly empty countryside, there was almost no one around to help. But townspeople and villagers soon flocked to the scene with buckets to try to put out the fire.

Frantic relatives flocked to New Delhi's main railway station Monday morning in search of answers. But there was only a handwritten list, posted on a bulletin board, with the names of 13 injured people and one identified body.

Mohammed Wasim Khan, who had dropped off his uncle and two young nephews at the station late Sunday, said railway officials had brusquely told him to take a train to the scene of the blast if he wanted more information.

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