A man from Noida, aged around 30, has emerged as the prime suspect in an arson attack inside a coach of the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express near Kozhikode, Kerala, late on Sunday.
According to eyewitnesses, the suspect carrying two plastic bottles threw a flammable liquid, possibly petrol, on passengers in the train’s D-1 coach and ignited it. Three persons died while jumping off the moving train to escape from the fire. Nine sustained severe burns. Shocked passengers pulled the alarm chain, and the train stopped on the bridge over the Korapuzha river.
Police have not revealed if they have custody of the suspect yet.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Kerala’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) have stepped in to collect probe details from the local police. Senior police officers said the actions of the suspect in the case appeared premeditated. However, the motive for the attack, which took place around 9.15 p.m. when the train neared Elathoor on the outskirts of Kozhikode, is still unclear.
Police identified the deceased as Rahmath Manikoth, 45, her two-year-old niece Sahara Bathul, and K.P. Noufeeq, a co-passenger. The bodies were found early on Monday.
Police said the suspect did odd jobs in north Kerala and lived off his carpentry skills. While weighing the security implications of the incident, top officials said it was too early to term it “terrorist attack”. Investigators said the suspect seemed to lead a “purposeful and job-oriented life”.
“The suspect appears to have no apparent political sympathies if the person’s social media posts and other internet activity are considered,” a senior official said. They have not ruled out mental issues.
Police have recovered from the train tracks, a bag containing a bottle of petrol, reading glass, mobile phone and lunch box, and a notebook with English and Hindi scribbles. They also prepared a facial composite based on eyewitness accounts. The image was broadcast on television channels.
State Police Chief Anil Kant said the police have leads on the suspected arsonist and the probe would cover the conspiracy angle if any emerged. He announced an 18-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) under M.R. Ajith Kumar, ADGP, Law and Order.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan said he was shocked by the “brutal killing of three persons and inflicting of burn injury to other train passengers”. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the incident “shocking and intensely sorrowful”.
Leader of Opposition V.D. Satheesan called for a joint investigation involving Centre and State law enforcement agencies. BJP president, K. Surendran, meanwhile, demanded that the government probe whether divisive forces orchestrated the attack.