QUETTA, Pakistan: A bomb blast on a train in Pakistan’s restive southwestern province of Baluchistan killed at least 13 people and injured 40 others on Tuesday, officials said, with the death toll feared to rise.
The explosion occurred after the train had pulled to a stop at Sibi railway station around 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of its destination Quetta, the provincial capital.
“We have recovered 12 dead bodies from the train. They have been burnt to charcoal,” said senior police official Mohammad Nazar, adding one injured person had died after being taken to hospital.
Sher Khan Bazai, a senior administration official, confirmed the incident, adding the injured had been taken to a military hospital in the same town.
“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.
Two carriages of the train caught fire after the blast but the flames had since been put out, Nazar told AFP.
“I can’t say whether the dead are adults or children as they are beyond recognition,” he said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique told Geo news channel it “could be in response to the ongoing operation” launched by paramilitary troops against separatist rebels a day before.
The Frontier Corps (FC) began an operation against insurgents early Monday in the Kalat district, around 300 kilometers southwest of Quetta.
“Around 40 insurgents belonging to the Baluch Republican Army (BRA) and Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) were killed during the operation,” the FC said Monday, though the toll could not be independently verified.
The train, known as the Jaffar Express, is a daily express service covering a 1,460 kilometer journey from the garrison city of Rawalpindi in the Punjab province to Quetta.
Bazai, the administration official, said the two affected bogies had been disconnected and the train would resume its journey.
Rafique said the same service had been attacked a few days earlier but there were no casualties.
“A few days ago terrorists had fired upon a train when it came out of a tunnel (in Baluchistan), but they ran away when security forces responded to firing.
“The train was standing at Sibi railway station where FC and other law enforcement agencies are always alert. We will have to review the security and find out the cracks from where the terrorists slipped and planted the explosives,” he added.
Resource-rich Baluchistan is home to a long-running separatist conflict that was revived in 2004, with nationalists seeking to stop what they see as the exploitation of the region’s natural resources and alleged rights abuses.