The 2007 Samjhauta Express Bombings

The 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing was a terrorist attack that occurred around midnight on 18 February 2007 on the Samjhauta Express, a twice-weekly train service connecting Delhi, India, and Lahore, Pakistan. Bombs were set off in two carriages, both filled with passengers, just after the train passed Diwana station near the Indian city of Panipat, 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of New Delhi. Sixty-eight people were killed in the ensuing fire and dozens more were injured. Of the 68 fatalities, most were Pakistani civilians. The victims also included some Indian civilians and three railway policemen.

Investigators subsequently found evidence of suitcases with explosives and flammable material, including three undetonated bombs. Inside one of the undetonated suitcases, a digital timer encased in transparent plastic was packed alongside a dozen plastic bottles containing fuel oils and chemicals. After the bombing, eight unaffected carriages were allowed to continue onwards to Lahore with passengers.

Both the Indian and Pakistani governments condemned the attack, and officials on both sides speculated that the perpetrators intended to disrupt improving relations between the two nations, since the attack came just a day before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was to arrive in New Delhi to resume peace talks with Indian leaders. There have been a number of breaks in the investigation of the bombing. As of 2011, nobody has been charged for the crime yet. It has been allegedly linked to Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu fundamentalist group in India. Other allegations also concurred on Lashkar-e-Taiba. A United States report declared Arif Qasmani to be involved in the attack. Consequently, after consulting with the United Nations, the United States declared him an international terrorist.

Background

Since their formation resulting from the Partition of India in 1947, India and Pakistan have had a conflict-ridden relationship. In their plan for the partition, the British allowed all 565 princely states to decide which country they wanted to join. Most Hindu-majority princely states acceded to the Republic of India, while most Muslim-majority princely states joined the Dominion (now Islamic Republic) of Pakistan. The decision made by the leaders of some of these princely states has been a source of conflict and tension between the two countries. Kashmir is one of these princely states—its population was mostly Muslim, but the Hindu ruler Hari Singh of the state decided to join India. The countries have fought four wars over this disputed region: the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (resulting in the formation of Bangladesh), and the Kargil War in 1999. Since the 1980s, militants in Jammu and Kashmir have targeted attacks on civilians, members of the government and the Indian Army. Some groups, like the Islamist militant organisations Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, believe that Kashmir should be integrated into Pakistan, while others—such as the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front—believe it should become an independent state. All told, thousands of civilians have died due to the insurgency.

In recent years, the Indian and Pakistani governments have made attempts to bring peace or to at least calm the tensions between the countries. One such attempt in the peace process came with the launch of the Samjhauta Express, so-named because the word samjhauta means “accord” and “compromise” in Hindi and Urdu, respectively. This twice-weekly train service runs between Delhi and Attari in India and Wagah and Lahore in Pakistan. Launched in 1976, the Samjhauta Express served as the only rail connection between the two countries until the launch of the Thar Express. Given the nature of the transnational service and the ongoing violence in the region, the Samjhauta Express was always heavily guarded, as it was a high-risk target for terrorist attacks. Weeks after the Indian Parliament terrorist attack on 13 December 2001, the train service was discontinued amid security concerns. Although it resumed service on 15 January 2004, the train was placed on high security. Just days before the attack, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri announced that he was going to Delhi on 21 February 2007 to meet with Indian government officials to continue peace talks and to sign a nuclear risk reduction agreement.

Details

Twin blasts shook two coaches of the Samjhauta Express travelling between India and Pakistan at around 23:53 IST (18:23 UTC) on Sunday, 18 February 2007, shortly after the train had passed through the railway station in the village of Diwana, near the Indian city of Panipat. One railway employee manning the level crossing at the time stated:


It was about 11.52 when I showed the signal lantern to the Attari [Samjhauta] Express which was coming in very fast, probably at over 100 kilometers an hour (62.1 mph). Just as it reached near the home signal, I could hear two loud explosions from the coaches near the guards’ van at the rear.

After the explosions, both carriages were engulfed in flames and many passengers were incapacitated by the smoke. Witnesses claim to have seen passengers screaming and attempting to escape, but since most of the train’s windows were barred for security reasons, many could not escape in time. The injured were pulled out of the burning carriages by fellow passengers and local residents.

In the end, the terrorist attack left 68 people dead and 50 injured. Most of the dead and injured were Pakistani nationals, though some Indians, including railway workers, were also killed. Initial identification of the victims was hindered by the fact that many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition. The rest of the train, which was left undamaged by the attack, continued on to the border town of Attari. There, passengers were transferred to a Pakistani train which took them to their destination in Lahore.

Reactions

– India

The Indian government and media initially began pointing the finger at Pakistan for the terror attacks. Widespread condemnation of Pakistan ensued, particularly from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and Pakistan was accused of harbouring terrorists and intentionally derailing peace attempts with India. Later on, however, the bombing appeared to be more linked to Hindutva militant groups within India than with any terrorist organization within Pakistan. Indian Minister of Railways, Lalu Prasad Yadav, condemned the incident and went on to say that the attack was “an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan.” He also announced compensation payments of Rs. 1,000,000 (approx. €17,500 or US$22,750) for the next-of-kin of each of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 for those injured. Home Minister Shivraj Patil claimed that “whoever is behind the incident is against peace and wants to spoil our growing relationship with other countries”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed “anguish and grief” at the loss of life, and vowed that the culprits would be caught. India’s foreign ministry also promised to issue visas for Pakistani relatives of those killed or injured in the blasts. Indian journalist Siddharth Varadarajan argued that the peace process should stay on track and that any wavering would be tantamount to surrendering to terrorism.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then Indian Minister of Railways.
Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then Indian Minister of Railways.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party condemned the attacks and petitioned the ruling Indian National Congress to ask Pakistan to comply with its 2004 promise to crack down on cross-border terrorism. The party also argued for a harsher anti-terror bill to take a “zero tolerance” approach to terrorism in India.

– Pakistan

The government of Pakistan reacted in the same vein, through its Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, proclaiming that this was an act of terrorism that should be investigated by Indian authorities. Kasuri said that the terrorist attack would not halt his trip to India, as he “will be leaving tomorrow for Delhi to further the peace process.” He went on to say that “we should hasten the peace process.” In response to the terrorist attack, President Pervez Musharraf stated “such wanton acts of terrorism will only serve to further strengthen our resolve to attain the mutually desired objective of sustainable peace between the two countries.” Musharraf also said that there must be a full Indian investigation of the attack. In regards to the upcoming peace talks, he stated “we will not allow elements which want to sabotage the ongoing peace process to succeed in their nefarious designs.”

– Elsewhere

  • In the United Kingdom, Foreign Office minister Kim Howells condemned what he termed “utterly shameful” attacks, offered his “condolences to the family and friends of those killed and injured”, and offered “the Governments of India and Pakistan whatever assistance they require, to bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutal attack.” Leaders in the British Pakistani community called the terrorist attack a “despicable act” and urged for a speedy investigation into the tragedy so that those responsible could be arrested and jailed.

  • The Bush administration condemned those responsible for the bomb explosions aboard the Samjhauta Express. On behalf of the United States government, White House spokesman David Almacy stated: “We express our deepest sorrow for this tragedy and extend condolences to the families of the victims. We appreciate the leadership of Indian Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh and Pakistani President (Pervez) Musharraf, and condemn those who seek to undermine the progress in relations between the two countries.”

Tension

On 23 February, a Pakistani Air Force C-130 plane landed, upon being granted approval, in New Delhi to evacuate Pakistanis injured in the train bombing. Of the ten people to be evacuated, three were missing, all from the same family. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasneem Aslam, claimed that the father, Rana Shaukat Ali, was harassed by Indian intelligence agency personnel at the Safdarjung Hospital. Aslam also said that Pakistan High Commission officials were denied entrance into the hospital. An Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Navtej Sarna, denied these allegations and stated that the patients would be taken to the airport. Sarna told the press that Ali’s family was not missing, and that hospital doctors had decided not to allow Pakistani officials access into the hospital. He also stated that the C-130 plane had developed a problem and could not take off. Later, Aslam told press correspondents that the “[C-130] aircraft was still at the airport” and that Mr. Ali chosen to travel back to Pakistan via a land route.[32] Despite the tensions between the two countries’ External Affairs ministries, the C-130 aircraft took off from New Delhi at around 21:00 local time. After the incident, Ali criticised the media, who asked him for “stories for their publications at a time when I am not in my senses because of the death of my five children.” He also stated that Indian officials showed him sketches of suspects, but he could not identify them.

Investigation

The day after the bombing, Indian police stated that the suitcase bomb attack was the work of at least four or five people with a possible militant connection. The police also released sketches of two suspects who the police Inspector General said had left the train just fifteen minutes before the explosions. The police say that one of the men was around 35 or 36 years old, “plumpish” and dark, with a moustache, and the second was around 26 or 27, wearing a scarf wrapped around his head. The police also stated that both men were speaking Hindi. Another man, a Pakistani national who was drunk at the time, was being questioned because he said he threw one of the bomb-containing suitcases off the train. A senior Haryana state railway police official said that the man’s “account has been inconsistent and we have no definite conclusions yet.” Later, the Inspector General said “the suitcase was thrown on the track” and that the Pakistani national “was there and said he had thrown it.”

In early March, Haryana police arrested two people from the city of Indore who allegedly sold the suitcases used in the bombing. No charges were pressed on the individuals. A probe conducted by the commissioner of Railway Safety officially determined that the explosions and fire on the Samjhauta Express had been caused by bombs located in the upper compartments in coaches GS 03431 and GS 14857. The probe also showed that the train slowed down to a speed of 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph) just before it was going to pass the Diwana train station. The results strengthened the belief that the suspects got off the train before the explosions. On 31 March, a 25-year-old man was interrogated after being arrested in Amritsar after jumping off a moving train under suspicious circumstances.

– Later developments

No major developments took place in the investigation since late March 2007. Meanwhile, the Indian and Pakistan governments agreed to a bilateral pact to extend passenger train and freight services between the two countries until 2010. In late April, the Indian and Pakistan governments initiated steps for safety and security measures for the Samjhauta Express. The two countries started sharing information on passengers travelling on the trains. The train is now under a reservation system, and as one Railway Ministry source said, “with no unreserved coaches, we now have complete passenger details from their ticket reservation data a few hours prior to their boarding, and departure of the train.” Also in late April, three new coaches equipped with India’s most advanced fire fighting systems were added to the Samjhauta Express. Indian Railway Ministry sources commented that the system acts with brake pressure, and this glass-encased system could throw water up to 15 metres (49 ft). Indian and Pakistani members of the Anti-Terror Mechanism (ATM) group met on 22 October 2007 to update each other regarding the status of the investigation.

In November 2008, it was reported that Indian officials suspected the attacks were linked to Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian army officer also alleged member of Hindu nationalist group Abhinav Bharat. Purohit himself claimed that he had “infiltrated” the Abhinav Bharat and he was only doing his job. During an army’s Court of Inquiry as many as 59 witnesses stated to the court that Purohit was doing his job (of gathering intelligence inputs) by infiltrating extremist organizations. Officers have testified that he was doing what he was asked to do as a military intelligence man.

Investigators concluded that the suitcases used to make the suitcase bombs originated from Indore in India, based on their stitching. Indian officials said they were prepared to share their findings with Pakistan.

In January 2010, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused India of not pursuing the case seriously, and of refusing to divulge details about the role of Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit. Malik alleged that Purohit had hired Pakistani extremists to carry out the bombing. In October 2010, an 806-page chargesheet prepared by the Rajasthan anti-terrorist squad revealed that the Samjhauta Express had been discussed as a potential target for an attack at a meeting of Hindutva bomb makers in February 2006; the group subsequently travelled to Indore.

On 30 December 2010, National Investigation Agency claimed that they have solid evidence that Swami Aseemanand was the mastermind behind the blasts. He had roped in Sandeep Dange, an engineering graduate, and Ramji Kalsangra, an electrician, to build the improvised explosive devices used in the blasts. On 8 January 2011, Aseemanand confessed that Saffron terror outfits were behind the bombing of Samjhauta express,[53] a statement later found to be obtained under duress. Later RSS sent a legal notice to CBI accusing it for deliberately leaking Swami Aseemanand’s confession in media. RSS spokesman Ram Madavh called the investigation maligning of organisations and individuals. However, in late March 2011, Aseemanand came out and stated: “I have been pressurised mentally and physically by the investigating agencies to confess that I was behind these blasts.” Aseemanand was charged on 20 June 2011 for planning the blast. In November 2011, Indian High Courts issued a stay notice to the National Intelligence Agency on the point that Aseemanand was tortured and coerced in prison and on the allegations that the investigation agency itself was biased by its association to the United Progressive Alliance government In early 2012, commentators started questioning the “Hindu” angle to the terror attacks, noting both the existence of an equally plausible “Muslim” angle and the near impossibility of proving any claims.

Many initial reports suggested that the prime suspects in the bombing were the Islamic groups Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both of whom have been blamed for many high-profile bombings in the past. On 1 July 2009, the United States Treasury and UNSC placed sanctions on Lashkar-e-Toiba, and named Arif Qasmani as having played a role in the bombing. In 2009, Qasmani was hit with a travel ban and an asset freeze by the 1267 committee of the United Nations Security Council Qasmani, as of 2011, was still the United States’ main suspect in the Samjhauta bombing.

On 12 February 2012, the National Investigation Agency of India arrested a suspect identified as Kamal Chouhan, former RSS worker from the Indore district in the state of Madhya Pradesh and conducted intense questioning. According to sources, Chouhan had a possible role in planting the bomb in the train. Chouhan is believed to be a close aide of Ramji Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, two key Indian suspects in the case on whom the agency has announced a cash reward of ₹ 1 million for information of their whereabouts. The National Investigation Agency is likely to file a fresh chargesheet in a next couple of days which will name Kamal Chauhan and Amit Chauhan as the two alleged bombers who along with Lokesh Sharma and Rajendra Pehalwan allegedly planted the four suitcase bombs in the train.

In April 2016, Director General of NIA requested the United States government to provide information on LeT Key financier Arif Qasmani. The US charge sheet in 2009 accused Qasmani of funding the blasts. Later, in april 2016, NIA declared that there is no evidence of Lt Col Purohit’s involvement in the bombing.

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