QUETTA/LAHORE - At least 17 people were killed and 46 others injured in a bomb attack on Rawalpindi-bound Jaffar Express at Sibi Railway Station on Tuesday. Five children were believed to be among the dead.
Five of the injured were shifted to Quetta by Pakistan Army's helicopter because of their critical wounds.
The passenger train was heading towards Rawalpindi from Quetta. As it reached Sibi station at 1:35pm, there was a huge explosion inside bogie number 9 of the train. Resultantly, three bogies caught fire and 17 people inside the bogies burnt to death while more than 40 people sustained injuries.
"The area was packed with people when the blast occurred," Deputy Inspector General Qazi Hussain said.
Rescue workers, fire tenders, police and security forces rushed to the station and shifted the injured and dead to Civil Hospital Sibi. The fire tenders brought the fire under control after 40 minutes of struggle. A state of emergency was imposed at the city hospitals to cope with the situation after the blast. Some of the injured were shifted to Combined Military Hospital Sibi while five injured were shifted to Quetta by a helicopter of Army.
Some passengers were carrying gas cylinders which also exploded along with the bomb planted inside the bogie causing a huge fire. Three bogies were completely destroyed, Qazi said.
Police investigators said around 20 kilograms of explosive material was used in the blast. "The fire was huge and burnt everything to ashes. Everything inside the bogie and on the track was burnt to ashes," police officer Qazi Hussain added.
The railway employees and police officials detached the bogies from rest of the train in order to save more lives. Jaffar Express later left for its destination after the conclusion of rescue operation at the blast site.
The blast came a day after security forces said they had killed 30 militants in one of the biggest clashes in months in Kalat city.
The separatist United Baluch Army claimed responsibility, saying in a text message to Reuters the bombing was retaliation for the raids by security forces. The United Baluch Army (UBA) spokesman warned of more such attacks in the coming days in response to a major military operation against militants that began on Monday in Kalat.
The bomb went off on the Rawalpindi-bound Jaffar Express in a carriage reserved for men. "Fire engulfed the (carriage) following the blast causing most of the deaths," said a rescue worker.
The explosion occurred after the train had pulled to a stop and passengers were disembarking at Sibi.
Two carriages quickly became engulfed by a scorching inferno and smoke as passengers, some of whom were on fire, screamed and struggled to escape, senior police official Mohammad Nazar, who was at the scene, told AFP.
"We have recovered 12 dead bodies from the train. They have been burnt to charcoal," he said, adding one of the injured had died after being taken to a military hospital in the same town.
Sher Khan Bazai, a senior administration official, confirmed the incident. "24 patients are in critical condition, they will be shifted to Quetta as soon as they are stable enough to travel," he said, adding that the injured included six women and four children.
The Frontier Corps (FC) began an operation against insurgents early Monday in the Kalat district, around 300 kilometres southwest of Quetta.
They said they had killed 40 insurgents belonging to the Baluch Republican Army (BRA) and Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) though the toll could not be independently verified.
"Today's attack was a revenge against the military operation," said UBA spokesman Mureed Baluch. "We warn the people not to travel in trains as we will continue attacks in the future," he added.
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Malik has strongly condemned the incident and ordered a report about the incident. Home Minister Balochistan Sarfraz Bugti in Quetta told the reporters that banned militant organizations could be responsible for this deadly bombing.
In a statement in Lahore, Saad Rafique said there would be no compromise on Railways security and rehabilitation.
He announced Rs 0.5million and Rs 0.2million compensation for the families of each deceased and injured in the attack. He termed the blast a cowardice act by terrorists against innocent lives, stating such activities could not down the morale of the people of Pakistan.
“Terrorists have failed to attack the track due to foolproof security by the Frontier Corps and Pakistan Railways Police but now they are making direct attacks on innocent lives,” he said, adding, a high level inquiry was being conducted to determine how the terrorist got succeeded to hit the coach.
Talking to local TV, he said foreign elements are involved in the blast to create terror in the province, adding, that blast killed innocent people for their nefarious aims.