The Kerala police are weighing the security implications of the arson attack inside a compartment of the Alappuzha-Kannur Executive Express train in Kozhikode late on April 2.
Notably, law enforcement has not ruled out a terrorist motive. An official privy to the fast unfolding investigation says the arsonist appeared to have selected his targets randomly, a signature modus operandi that recalled terrorist strikes on public transport systems the world over.
He said malicious actors had often used fuel as a readily available means of attack to target critical infrastructure and public crowds. For now, the probe seemed centred around the attacker’s identity and the person’s motive.
The State police said nine persons sustained severe burns, and three of a family died when they jumped off the moving train in a panic to flee the fire. The dead included an infant.
The police have prepared a facial composite, a drawing based on eyewitnesses’ recollections of the attacker’s physiognomy, and broadcast the image on news television.
A law enforcer said facial composites were often flawed. But, such graphical representations have elicited public responses that have helped fast-track investigations through a “ruling out” process.
The police say initial clues suggest that the arson was not a solitary act. Surveillance camera footage from near the spot the attacker got off the train showed an identical person getting away hitchhiking a ride on a scooter. They also recovered a bag reportedly containing a bottle of petrol, a few personal belongings and a scribbled notebook. Nearby, they found an abandoned mobile phone with “recently erased” messages. An official said the retrieved bag and phone might lead the police to the suspect.
‘Police have a lead on the attacker’
Speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, State Police Chief Anil Kanth hinted that the police have a lead on the attacker. Mr. Kanth was heading to Kannur to supervise the probe.
“We are chasing several leads. The police have some definite clues that could lead them to the suspect. I have initiated the formation of a Special Investigation Team. The Inspector General of Police, North Zone, is heading the probe. The probe would also cover the conspiracy angle if any emerges,” he said.
Shocking and intensely sorrowful: CM
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the incident “shocking and intensely sorrowful”. In a statement, Mr. Vijayan said an infant and two others lost their lives when they jumped out of the moving train to flee the attacker. Several other passengers sustained severe burns.
A senior official said the arson had prompted the government to flag the safety of passengers on trains traversing the State as a priority law and order issue. He said the State police would conduct a security audit with their railway counterparts.
The police would increase their presence inside trains, on platforms, and near stations round-the-clock. They would also augment security camera surveillance in public places as a force multiplier and deterrent against crime.