Indian police release sketches of bomb suspects

NEW DELHI Tue Feb 20, 2007 8:14pm EST

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India released sketches on Tuesday of two suspects in the bombing of a train to Pakistan that killed 68 people and both countries vowed not to let the attack disrupt a slow-moving peace process.

Police said the suitcase bombs were the work of at least four or five people and a militant outfit must have been responsible for Sunday night's attack.

"Incidents like these which are very heart-rending and which affect both countries and both peoples can only add to the urgency of the need for cooperation," Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri told reporters at a New Delhi hospital.

"It is an act of terror designed to interfere and disrupt the peace process between India and Pakistan," said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visited the same hospital later.

"The best tribute that we can pay to these passengers ... is to remain steadfast in our commitment to normalize relations between our two countries."

Kasuri will hold talks with his Indian counterpart on Wednesday, part of a peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals that began in 2004 but has made limited progress. He is also due to meet Singh.

Indian police investigating the attack on the train heading from New Delhi to Lahore released sketches of two men who jumped off the train before the blasts.

"Around 11:30 (p.m.), these people got down, and the blasts happened 15 minutes later," police Inspector-General Sharad Kumar told a televised news conference in Panipat town, close to the site of the blasts about 80 km (50 miles) outside New Delhi.

One of the suspects was around 35 or 36 years old, "plumpish" and dark, with a mustache. The second was around 26 or 27, wearing a scarf wrapped around his head. Both were speaking the local Hindi language.

PAKISTANI QUESTIONED

The men had an argument with railway police earlier in the journey and had said they had wanted to go to the western city of Ahmedabad, police said. They were told the train did not go there and were asked to get off.

"After the argument, when the train slowed down, they walked off," said Bharti Arora, a senior railway police officer.

While the train attack occurred in India, the majority of the victims on the Samjhauta Express were Pakistanis.

The suitcases were packed with plastic bottles of kerosene and petrol, and mixed with strips of cloth to prolong the blaze. Two other bombs were planted but failed to explode.

Police are still questioning Pakistani national Usman Mohammed who said he threw one of the suitcases off the train.

"The suitcase was thrown on the track," Kumar said. "Usman was there and said he had thrown it. We are verifying it. We are not giving a clean chit. He was drunk."

The Samjhauta rail service was halted after an attack on New Delhi's parliament in late 2001 and it resumed in 2004.

A Hindu-nationalist group threatened to disrupt the service in 2000 but suspicion for this attack has fallen on Muslim extremists opposed to the peace process.

Pakistani Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said New Delhi was yet to give Islamabad a list of the dead and called for a joint investigation.

"You can't imagine how I am feeling," said Himmat Ali, whose cousin was injured and five of his cousin's children killed.

"The people who did this are devils. For them to kill innocent children is evil. They should be hanged."

(Additional reporting by Prithwish Ganguly and Nita Bhalla in New Delhi and Kamran Haider in Islamabad)

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