At least 17 people — including a woman and five children — were killed and nearly four dozen wounded when a passenger train was bombed at Sibi railway station on Tuesday.
The banned United Baloch Army (UBA) claimed responsibility for the attack on Jaffar Express which was en route from Quetta to Rawalpindi. It came a day after paramilitary Frontier Corps killed ’40 Baloch militants’ in a crackdown in Kalat division.
Ten minutes after Jaffar Express chugged into the Sibi railway station at 1:35pm, a huge explosion tore through wagon No. 9 of the train, according to the police. The blast ignited a fireball which quickly swept through three carriages.
Medics and government officials confirmed that at least 17 passengers were killed and 44 others wounded – some of them critically. Twelve of the bodies, which are charred beyond recognition, have been shifted to Quetta for identification through DNA tests.
“The passengers, some of whom were on fire, screamed and struggled to escape,” senior police official Muhammad Nazar, who was at the scene, told AFP. “Most of the dead have been burnt to charcoal,” he added. The train had just pulled to a stop and passengers were disembarking when the bomb went off.
DIG Qazi Hussain said the fire was caused by gas cylinders in the passengers’ luggage that exploded after the blast. “Three wagons were completely destroyed. Everything inside was reduced to ashes,” he told The Express Tribune. “The explosive device used in the attack weighed around 20 kilogrammes.
It took the firefighters 40 minutes to douse the scorching inferno. But by the time the fire was extinguished, the wagons were already gutted.
Rescuers and security forces ferried the casualties to the Civil Hospital Sibi, where a state of emergency was declared. Some of the injured were also shifted to the military hospital in the district – while those with critical wounds were flown in military helicopters to Quetta. Railways staff and police disconnected the gutted wagons and the train left for its destination after the rescue operation was completed.
Ghulam Sarwar, the medical superintendent of the Civil Hospital Sibi, told The Express Tribune that the medical facility doesn’t have a mortuary which is why the charred bodies were shifted to Quetta. The United Baloch Army claimed credit for the grisly violence. “Today’s attack was a revenge against the military operation,” UBA spokesman Mureed Baloch said referring to the Kalat crackdown. “We warn the people not to travel in trains as we will continue attacks in the future,” he added.
According to Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, preliminary investigation suggests that the bomb was planted by a woman. “The train was standing at Sibi railway station where FC and other law enforcement agencies are always alert. We will have to review the security and find out the cracks from where the terrorists slipped in and planted the explosives,” he added.
Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch immediately ordered an inquiry. “An investigation team, comprising officials from Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps and police, has been formed,” an official of the Balochistan government said.
Home Secretary Asad Gillani has said the Sibi bombing case will be registered under the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance – a law which has stirred a controversy in political circles and among rights campaigners. If registered, this will be the fourth case registered under the PPO in Balochistan.
It was a second attack on passenger trains within four days. On March 31, Akbar Bugti Express was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades in Bolan which left two people dead.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2014.