DEEWANA, India (Reuters) - Two bombs exploded on board a train bound from India to Pakistan, sparking a fire that killed at least 66 passengers on Monday, in an apparent attempt to sabotage a peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Most of the victims were Pakistanis, but some Indians and three railway policemen died in the attack, officials said.
Bodies were laid out in blue bags between huge slabs of melting ice in a morgue in the nearby town of Panipat. Officials said about 30 of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
“I have been working here for 25 years and I have never seen anything like this,” said nurse Rohtas Singh. “Some bodies don’t have legs, some don’t have arms, some have no faces. Some you can’t even make out if they are men or women.”
About half a dozen of the corpses were of children.
Two unexploded suitcase bombs were also found on the train. Inside one, an electronic timer encased in clear plastic was packed next to more than a dozen plastic bottles containing a cocktail of fuel oils and chemicals.
Indian financial markets shrugged off the bombings, with the Mumbai stock market’s index ending slightly higher on the day.
One person was detained in connection with the midnight blasts on the train about 80 km (50 miles) north of New Delhi, Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav was quoted as saying.
But there was no finger-pointing by India and Pakistan, as there has been so often in the past after violent attacks.
The prime ministers of the two countries called each other and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the attack would not be allowed to undermine the two countries’ peace efforts.
“We will not allow elements which want to sabotage the ongoing peace process to succeed in their nefarious designs,” Musharraf said in a statement.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, due in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders to push forward the slow-moving peace process, said his trip would go ahead.
Washington condemned the bombing and “those who seek to undermine the progress in relations between the two countries,” White House spokesman David Almacy said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “this heinous crime cannot be justified by any cause and its perpetrators should be brought to justice,” according to U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.
Police said that while the explosions were small, they were intended to cause fires on at least four of the train’s coaches.
“It’s sabotage — it’s an act of terrorism like the one in Mumbai,” Yadav told reporters, referring to serial bomb blasts in India’s commercial capital last July that killed 186 people.
Press Trust of India, or PTI, quoted him as saying one person in one of the two coaches that caught fire had been detained.
Like all Indian trains, most of the windows in the lower- class compartments were barred with metal rods, meaning many people were trapped inside the carriages.
Fellow passengers, officials and local villagers near the town of Deewana fought through choking smoke to pull victims out of doors and emergency exit windows.
At least 13 people were also injured, with several arriving at a New Delhi hospital, their faces burned and bandaged.
Two of the coaches of the Samjhauta Express, which connects New Delhi to the northern Pakistani city of Lahore, erupted in flames around midnight (1830 GMT) on Sunday.
Carriages were blackened and gutted, paint peeled off with the heat. Burned clothes, shoes and bags littered the floor.
The rest of the train, which had been carrying around 600 passengers, continued to the border town of Attari where passengers were transferred to a Pakistani train.
At Old Delhi station, relatives were angry at the lack of security that allowed the four suitcases packed with explosives to be placed on a train.
“There were so many people here,” said 26-year-old Mohammed Raziuddin, holding a photograph of the Pakistani brother he had seen off at the station earlier. “But there was no checking and no security ... there was no discipline.”
PTI said Yadav said not all luggage could be checked.
“Though there are metal detectors, we don’t have the equipment to check what is inside the luggage. We can’t deny that,” he was quoted as saying when asked if there was any security lapse in checking-in the passengers.
The attack happened days before the fifth anniversary of a fire on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims that killed 59 people in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat, and sparked communal riots in which around 2,500 people died, most of them Muslims.
That fire was blamed at the time on Muslims, but some subsequent inquiries have said it could have been accidental.
The Samjhauta rail service was halted after an attack on New Delhi’s parliament in late 2001 and it started up again in 2004.
A Hindu nationalist group threatened to disrupt the service in 2000, but suspicion for this attack is likely to fall on Muslim extremists opposed to the peace process.