A day ahead of Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s official visit to India, twin bomb blasts rocked the Pak-bound Attari-Samjhauta Express near Panipat in Haryana killing as many as 64 passengers.
The powerful blasts, apparently timed to coincide with the Pakistani minister’s visit to discuss bilateral issues with his Indian counterpart, set afire two bogies which were completely gutted.
Believed to the handiwork of terrorists, the explosions were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) concealed in suitcases kept in the coaches which went off around 12.53 am close to Diwana station before Panipat, according to official reports.
According to Railway MiniMinister Lalu Yadav, who has rushed to the accident site from Patna, there were a large number of Pakistani visitors on the train who were returning home after their stay here in India.
However, it was not immediately clear as to how many of the victims in the two ill-fated bogies were Pak nationals. Both the bogies were reported to be general compartments in which ordinary middle class passengers travel.
Besides those killed , at least 13 people were said to be seriously injured and were rushed to the district hospital in Panipat. The death toll is expected to go up further.
Top Railways officials, including Minister of State R Velu reached the spot in the early hours of the morning to supervise the relief operations.
The two burnt bogies were removed from the tracks and the train resumed its onward journey to Attari near Wagah border with the rest of the passengers under a heavy security escort.
Eyewitness reports said the raging fire in the two coaches was first noticed at Diwana station but the train could not be stopped till it reached Panipat.
By the time, the fire tenders arrived to put out the blaze, the coaches were completely burnt. The incident, which has sent shock waves through India and Pakistan, was strongly condemned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said that those responsible for it would not be spared. Congress president Sonia Gandhi too expressed deep anguish over it.
Railway Minister Yadav, meanwhile, expressed the belief that the blasts were aimed at giving a setback to the improving Indo-Pak relations.
About 600 passengers were travelling on the weekly Attari Express, as it is called on the Indian side, which departed from Old Delhi Station at 10.50 pm on Sunday. The blasts, which occurred two hours later, are said to have been set off through timer devices.
After the train reaches Attari junction in Amritsar district, its passengers disembark to cross the Indo-Pak border at Wagah and board the Samjhauta Express on the other side to resume their journey to Lahore. The occurrence of blasts in the Indo-Pak express is surprising as it is one of the most heavily guarded trains which does not stop at any of the stations en route.
Also, only valid visa holders can board it. The fact that suitcases laden with explosives were carried on board without detection and left there by terrorists, who obviously got down before the explosions , points to a serious security lapse.
The Railway Minister is expected to announce a high-level enquiry into the incident later in the day after inspecting the burnt bogies and meeting the injured in Panipat civil hospital.