NEW DELHI – Indian police released sketches Tuesday of two men suspected of planting the bombs that sparked a fire on a train to Pakistan, killing 68 people in an attack officials said was intended to disrupt the steadily improving ties between the longtime rival countries.
The two men, whose identities are not known, boarded the train when it left New Delhi on Sunday but quickly began arguing with the conductor, insisting they were on the wrong train. They were allowed to jump from the train as it slowed down about 15 minutes to 20 minutes before the crude bombs detonated, said Sharad Kumar, a senior police official.
The train goes from New Delhi to the border town of Atari without stopping, and the revelation that two were allowed off highlighted what most passengers already know — that security on the train and at stations is cursory, at best.
In further signs of lax security, Kumar told reporters that 13 passengers made it to the Pakistani side of Atari without passports.
"There is no security at all at the station," Ati-ur-Rahman said as he waited Monday near Dewana for word about his missing cousin who was headed for Lahore, the line's final stop in Pakistan.
"There are only a few rude constables and all they're looking for is a few hundred rupees. They don't check anything," he said.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad virtually acknowledged as much hours after the blast when he told reporters: "Though there are metal detectors, we don't have the equipment to check what is inside the luggage. We can't deny that."
Meanwhile, a Pakistani who had been traveling on the train was detained Tuesday for questioning, Indian officials said, though police acknowledged having little to connect him to the blasts.
"He was found in a drunken state and he's being questioned. But his account has been inconsistent and we have no definite conclusions yet," said Bharti Arora, a Haryana state railway police official.
The attack appeared intended to disrupt India-Pakistan relations, officials said, but following the bombings leaders of the rival nations said they would press ahead with their peace process.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri was expected to arrive in the Indian capital later Tuesday for previously scheduled talks that are expected to start Wednesday.
The fire destroyed two coaches on the Samjhauta Express about an hour after the train left New Delhi.
Pakistan quickly decried the attack, and Indian officials took pains to avoid laying quick blame. Each side appeared to reach out across the border.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared his country's "abhorrence for this heinous terrorist act." Most of the dead were Pakistani.
A Home Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the investigation, said no suspects had been ruled out — from Kashmiri separatists to Hindu extremists.
The attack "is the handiwork of a militant outfit, but we don't know which group is involved," said Kumar, the police official.
"The people who are involved in carrying out this attack appear to be well trained. The method used to carry out this attack — low intensity explosives along with incendiary material — is the best possible way to attack a train," said R.K. Kaushik, an expert on ballistic and explosive materials in the state government of Haryana. The fire took place in Haryana.
Authorities say two suitcases packed with crude unexploded bombs and bottles of gasoline were found in undamaged train cars, indicating the fire had been sparked by similar devices.
Witnesses described a horrific scene as the train stopped on an isolated stretch of railway near the village of Dewana, about 50 miles north of New Delhi. The train's driver apparently didn't realize what was happening in the seconds after the blasts, until an assistant station manager in Dewana saw fire shooting from the cars as they sped past and pulled a signal ordering the train to stop.
As on most Indian trains, the windows of many cars are barred for security reasons, sealing in many victims, and officials said at least one door was fused shut by the heat.
Witnesses said some victims remained trapped in the flaming carriages for up to 30 minutes, struggling futilely to escape.
The India-Pakistan train link was suspended after a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that India blamed on Pakistan and which nearly led to a war between the two countries.
But relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors have improved, and the train service — restarted in 2004 — is one of the most visible results.
Their enmity focuses on Kashmir, a largely Muslim Himalayan region divided between them but claimed by both. More than a dozen militant groups have been fighting in Indian Kashmir for nearly two decades, seeking the region's independence or its merger with predominantly Islamic Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have died.