Seemingly random incidents of arson on six trains in three states earlier this month may have been dummy runs for a bigger attack, suspect counter-terror officials. They have launched a manhunt for four jihadi suspects based on initial investigation.
“The government has decided to hand over the probe to the National Investigation Agency after it emerged that a group of four suspected jihadis maybe behind the incidents. The existence of the group was previously not known to counter-terror officials. We suspect these incidents of fire maybe a dry run for something big being planned by the group,” a senior home ministry official said.
The alert comes on the seventh anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks , and at a time the home ministry has asked states to step up efforts to curb growing radicalisation in the face of the Islamic State strike in Paris.
The first fire on November 4 burnt an empty coach of a Rishikesh-Delhi passenger train at Haridwar station. Then on November 12, blazes were reported on five trains in West Bengal’s Kharagpur and Odisha’s Bhubaneswar and Puri. Like the Haridwar fire, six empty coaches of stationary trains were targeted and no injuries were reported.
Multiple sources confirmed to HT that the investigators had found a common thread in these incidents.
“On the basis of CCTV footage, a Tamil Nadu resident, Subhas Ramachandran, was picked up. Ramachandran had travelled from Kolkata to Kharagpur and then to Bhubaneswar and Puri on the same day (November 12),” said a counter-terror official.
Ramachandran was picked up in Odisha by the state police.
“Initially, he tried to convince us he was mentally challenged but later revealed he was paid by a group of four Muslims to plant crude incendiary devices made of crackers to start the fires. The details that have emerged from his interrogation are being verified. We have got some leads about the group,” said the official.
According to the sources, Ramachandran claimed the four men maybe from Maharashtra and were also behind another train attack — twin blasts on the Bengaluru-Guwahati Express in Chennai on May 1, 2014 that left a woman techie dead and 14 injured.
“Earlier, it was suspected that a group of Students Islamic Movement of India operatives, who broke out of MP’s Khandwa prison in October 2013, maybe behind the Chennai train blasts. Two of the SIMI suspects were killed in a shootout with the Telangana police this April while three others are on the run. Any links between the new group and the suspected SIMI operatives on the run will also be probed,” said the counter-terror official.
The sources said Ramachandran and the gang of four may also be involved in other incidents of train fire.