3 die as man sets co-passengers on fire in Kerala train: Police

Apr 03, 2023 11:20 PM IST

According to the police, the incident happened in the D1 compartment of Alappuzha-Kannur Express, also known as Executive Express, at 9.45 pm on Sunday between Elathur and Koyilandi railway stations.

Thiruvananthapuram: Three people, including a two-year-old girl, were killed and nine others received burn injuries after an unidentified personpoured petrol on fellow passengers and set them afire on a Kannur-bound express train in Kerala on Sunday night, police said on Monday, adding no arrests have been made so far.

Police personnel investigate the train fire incident, in Kerala’s Kozhikode on Monday. (ANI)
Police personnel investigate the train fire incident, in Kerala’s Kozhikode on Monday. (ANI)

According to the police, the incident happened in the D1 compartment of Alappuzha-Kannur Express, also known as Executive Express, at 9.45 pm on Sunday between Elathur and Koyilandi railway stations.

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The bodies of Sahramath (two), her aunt M Rehmat (45) and M Noufeeq (in his 40s), a fish merchant, were recovered from the railway tracks, police said. Prima facie the police suspect the three may have jumped out of the moving train in panic after fellow passengers were set ablaze. “All three received head injuries,” said a senior police officer, requesting anonymity. “No burn injuries were found on the deceased.”

Kerala anti-terrorism squad (ATS) Inspector General of Police (IGP) P Vijayan said no arrests have been made in connection with the incident so far. He refused to entertain questions about the involvement of a person from Noida in Uttar Pradesh — as was reported in the local media — saying the investigation was underway.

Nine passengers who suffered burns in the incident are admitted in various hospitals in Kozhikode. Doctors said the condition of the two of those injured was critical.

“None of the passengers said they had any altercation or argument with the accused,” a railway police officer said, declining to be named. As soon as the incident took place, some passengers jumped off the running train in panic and the bodies of the three passengers, who went missing from the train after the fire, were recovered from the tracks near the Elathur railway station late on Sunday night, added the railway officer.

According to an eye-witness, soon after the train was stopped by passengers by pulling the emergency chain, the suspect wearing a red shirt and jeans jumped out and fled. The train was stopped on a bridge on the Korapuzha river and it triggered more panic, said the eye-witness.

“It was utter confusion and people started running and crying for help. Initially, we thought he [the suspect] was just spraying water but soon we smelled petrol. Before we could react, he lit the fire,” said P Ratheesh, one of the passengers. He added that some of the passengers warned others not to alight in panic as the train was struck on the bridge.

Another passenger said the suspect was loitering around in the train’s compartment before he started pouring petrol on other. “In seconds, he lit the fire using a lighter,” said the second passenger. He added that the suspect also suffered burn injuries.

A police officer said they suspect it was a well-planned and executed criminal act. “The location on the bridge was chosen to inflict maximum damage. In Elathur, a big reservoir of fuel is also near the railway tracks. We are not ruling out a possible terror angle at this juncture,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.

Police said they recovered a bag with a bottle of petrol, two mobile phones, a lunch box, and a pair of clothes. The last call from one of the phones was made on March 30.

On Monday, police released the sketch of the main suspect based on the description the witnesses provided. They said a major mishap was averted as the alert passengers pulled the alarm chain and stopped the train.

Meanwhile, the police have registered a case under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 326A (causing grievous burns), and 436 (mischief by fire) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 151 (damaging railway property) of the Railway Act. A senior police officer said the case may be handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the incident shocking and said a special investigation team will be constituted and state’s director general of police (DGP) Anil Kant will supervise the probe. “The state government will take necessary measures to ensure the safety of rail passengers,” Vijayan said. “We have also asked the railway ministry to step up security at railway stations and on trains.”

Kant said they have got some clues and working on those leads.

In New Delhi, railway minister Ashwani Vaishnav said it was a serious incident and they have also started an investigation.

EP Jayarajan, the convener of the Kerala’s ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) alliance said it “seems to be a clear case of terror”. He added: “Disruptive forces are quite jealous about peace and harmony prevailing in the state.”

Senior Congress leader and former leader of Opposition in the Kerala assembly Ramesh Chennithala said there was a need to increase the security in trains and everyone should be checked before being permitted to board a train. “It would be unfortunate if people cannot travel safely in trains. It is an unprecedented incident. The state and central governments should take up the issue seriously,” he added.

Officials said the railways have stepped up vigil at stations and on trains and that the ticket examiner on the Kannur Express told police that the suspect did not have a reserved ticket.

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    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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