Kozhikode train fire: SIT probe on; terror angle also looked into

Police suspect that the accused is from a 'northern state' and the incident was pre-planned, as he was carrying petrol in a bottle in his bag.

Kozhikode train fire, Kerala train fire
A forensic expert examines the spot where the bodies of the three passengers were found | Video grab: Twitter/ANI

The Kerala government has announced a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the train fire that led to the loss of three lives, including an infant, on Sunday (April 2) night in Kozhikode.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made the announcement on Monday (April 3). The man who allegedly set fire to the people inside one of the compartments of the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express on Sunday night is yet to be identified, and no arrests have been made so far.

However, police suspect that the “accused is from a northern state” and that the incident was pre-planned as he was carrying petrol in a bottle in his bag.

A railway police officer said that besides them, some other agencies were also looking into the matter to ascertain whether it has any terror links. “No other details can be shared at present. The investigation is going on,” the officer said.

He added that a sketch of the accused, based on a passenger’s statement, has been released.

Also read: Three found dead on railway track after train fire incident in Kerala’s Kozhikode

Vijayan promises strong measures

CM Vijayan, in a statement, said the police have been instructed to carry out a thorough investigation into the incident. He said the police were actively trying to catch hold of the assailant, and state police chief Anil Kant was supervising the probe.

The CM further said the state government would take strong measures to ensure the safety of rail passengers, and the Ministry of Railways will be requested to take all possible steps in the matter of passenger safety.

Vijayan also condoled the death of the three persons — a woman, her infant niece, and a man — who are believed to have fallen off the train or attempted to get off after seeing the fire. He said it was sad and shocking to hear the loss of three lives, including that of a baby, and the burns suffered by the passengers.

Nine passengers suffered burns in the incident and are admitted in various hospitals in Kozhikode. A case of murder has been lodged against the accused, police said earlier.

Also read: Kerala: Man sets co-passenger on fire aboard train, 3 injured

“Bag contained petrol”

The bodies of a woman, an infant, and a man, who went missing from the train after the fire, were recovered from the tracks near the Elathur railway station late on Sunday night.

Police believe they fell off the train or attempted to get off after seeing the fire. “A forensic team is inspecting the site,” police had said earlier. They also said a bag, believed to be that of the accused, was recovered from the tracks and it contained a bottle of petrol.

“Besides that, there were no other clues in the bag. It is not believed to be an act of terror. There is no information or links regarding that at present,” they said.

The incident occurred around 9.45 pm on Sunday, when the train reached Korapuzha railway bridge after crossing Kozhikode city. Initially, it was believed that the incident was an outcome of an altercation between the accused and another passenger.

Subsequently, police and a passenger present in the compartment have said the accused did not have any altercation with anyone. He simply poured an inflammable liquid, believed to be petrol, on the passengers and set them on fire, resulting in burn injuries to nine persons, police said.

“None of the passengers said they had an altercation or argument with the accused,” the railway police officer said.

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“Attack unexpected”

One of the injured passengers, who suffered minor burns, told a TV channel that the man suddenly came without a word or sound and sprayed petrol on several persons and set fire to them.

“It was very unexpected. There were very few people in the compartment. Everyone panicked and started running when he set those people on fire,” he said.

Ahammed Devarkovil, State Minister of Ports and an MLA from Kozhikode South constituency, told reporters that the incident was tragic and shocking. He said according to information received from police, the assailant is said to be around 25 years old.

“Police are trying to nab the accused with the help of CCTV footage,” the minister said.

“Need for more security”

Former Leader of Opposition in the state assembly and senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said there was a need to increase the security in trains and from now 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 said.

Chennithala also claimed that the incident was an example of the ineffectiveness in the functioning of the Railway Police Force (RPF). “The incident should open our eyes to the need for increased security in trains,” he added.

Also read: Budget: Railway allocation too ambitious amid high borrowing, low earnings

Accused escaped right away

Earlier in the day, railway police said some of the injured had suffered 50 per cent burns, but their health condition was stable. The bodies found on the tracks did not have any burns, they said.

The accused escaped soon after the incident, while the injured were shifted to hospitals after passengers pulled the emergency chain.

When the train reached Kannur, a few passengers complained that a woman and a child were missing. “A man, who was injured, kept looking for a woman and a child. We found footwear and a mobile phone of the woman,” a passenger told the media at Kannur.

Soon after the news of the missing persons came out, the city police inspected the tracks and found three bodies, including the woman and the child and a middle-aged man.

“We have found CCTV visuals of the suspect. Investigation is on,” a senior police official of the district had said.

(With agency inputs)