Muslim Mob Sets Fire to India Train, 57 Die

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 22:27:54 -0000

GODHRA, India (AP) -- Muslim attackers armed with stones and kerosene
descended on a train carrying hundreds of Hindu nationalists on
Wednesday, setting fire to four cars and killing 57 people.

Fourteen of the dead were children and 43 other people were injured,
many critically, when a mob attacked the train as it pulled out of
Godhra shortly after 6:30 a.m., Gujarat state officials said.

Fearing the attack would ignite sectarian riots, Indian officials
immediately stepped up security across this vast, religiously divided
nation. The prime minister urged Hindus not to retaliate.

The nationalists belonged to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu
Council, a group seeking to build a temple at the disputed holy site of
Ayodhya. Ten years ago, fighting between Muslims and Hindus over Ayodhya
killed 2,000 people.

Most of the 2,500 Hindu activists on board the Sabarmati Express were
returning from Ayodhya and were bound for Ahmadabad, 95 miles to the

Smoke was still pouring from the train Wednesday afternoon as relief
workers gingerly removed the charred bodies, which were piled on top of
one another, their limbs entangled.

State officials and witnesses said the Muslims appeared incensed by
Hindu chanting on the railroad platform in Godhra.

The cars they destroyed were detached, and the train continued on to
Vadodara, 60 miles to the south. There, a Hindu crowd that had gathered
at the station fatally stabbed a man as he got off the train, hospital
officials said. Several other people were beaten with sticks, they said.

Later Wednesday in Godhra, a 17-year-old boy was killed when police
fired shots and tear gas to disperse mobs looting shops and setting them
ablaze, officials said.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called on Hindu nationalists not to
retaliate. ``We need to protect Indian brotherhood at every cost,'' said
Vajpayee, who canceled a trip to Australia for a Commonwealth summit
after the attack.

Uttar Pradesh state officials said 3,000 paramilitary troops were sent
to Ayodhya to help police seal off the town. Only residents with passes
were allowed in.

Most of Godhra was placed under curfew Wednesday night.

Gujarat Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia said security was tightened in
Muslim areas of the state, and that police were ordered to shoot on
sight to prevent rioting.

``It is clear from the statements of survivors that the attack was
carried out by local people belonging to the Muslim community and, for
this reason, because of chances of retaliation, we have already
instructed our police officers to arrange special security cover for the
Muslim population,'' Zadaphia said.

Police also deployed extra patrols in cities where Muslims and Hindus
live in close quarters. In Old Delhi, the Muslim section of India's
capital, security was tightened in the congested lanes of the ancient
walled city.

The World Hindu Council alleged that the Godhra attackers were
retaliating for its plans to build a temple in Ayodhya. Hindus razed a
16th-century Muslim mosque at the site a decade ago, sparking the deadly
nationwide riots that killed more than 2,000 people.

The council called a statewide general strike on Thursday.

``The Muslim mob chose the compartments in which the volunteers were
in,'' said Jaideep Patel, joint secretary of the council. ``Once they
identified three compartments in which there were about 160 volunteers,
they threw containers of kerosene and petrol inside.''

More than 20,000 Hindu activists had gathered in Ayodhya, which lies 345
miles east of New Delhi, since the council announced it would break
ground on a temple by March 15 in defiance of court orders banning
construction at the disputed site.

Muslim leaders said several families among the town's 7,000 Muslims had
locked their houses and fled out of fear of the Hindu nationalists.

``Hindu terrorists armed with tridents,'' the symbol of the Hindu god of
destruction, Shiva, ``are creating a fear psychosis in Ayodhya and they
should be banned immediately,'' Harshim Ansari, a plaintiff in the legal
case over the destroyed mosque, told reporters in Ayodhya.

Harish Umer, district chief of the Muslim Minority Forum, warned that if
the government failed to take steps to stop the flight of Muslims, he
would call for Muslims nationwide to come and defend their brethren.

Vajpayee urged the council to drop its demands for a Hindu temple in

``The solution to this problem will not come by a movement of this kind
or by violence,'' he said. ``There are only two ways -- by dialogue or
leave it to the courts.''

Clashes between Hindus and Muslims are frequent in Godhra, where Muslims
make up 30 percent of the population. India's most powerful Hindu
nationalist groups are strong in Gujarat, and the relatively prosperous
state is the site of many religious clashes.

Some witnesses put the Muslim mob count at 2,000, but Raju Bhargav,
Godhra's police superintendent, said there were about 100 attackers. He
said there had also been clashes over the weekend between Hindus and
Muslims in a nearby town where Muslims were celebrating the festival of
Eid al-Adha.

``This could have been in retaliation for the trouble on Eid,'' Bhargav


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