JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The escalating violence in South Africa took a gruesome turn yesterday as a handful of black youths attacked a commuter train full of blacks, randomly shooting and hacking passengers on their way home from work.
Police said at least 26 people were killed and more than 130 injured in the attack. Some of the passengers were injured when they leaped from the windows of the moving train to escape the assailants.
The train was taking commuters from the city to Soweto, which has been rocked by weeks of factional fighting, much of which pitted Zulu residents of crowded migrant-worker hostels against local residents in neighboring communities or squatter camps.
Witnesses said about 10 black youths, carrying guns and spears, boarded the train at Jeppe Station in Johannesburg and moved systematically from coach to coach assaulting the passengers. The youths jumped from the train before it made its next stop at George Goch Station, but another gang attacked screaming passengers as they tried to escape.
Yesterday was the second straight day that violence of this nature spilled into Johannesburg from nearby townships where more than 700 people have died in bloody confrontations since Aug. 12. Wednesday, four men in a minivan attacked people waiting for buses and taxis along several Johannesburg streets. Three people were killed and several injured.
Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok expressed shock after the train massacre yesterday, saying the police would not rest until the assailants were found. He said police would do everything in their power to halt the escalating violence.
The African National Congress issued a statement saying there was mounting evidence of police involvement in a campaign designed to "incite violence among different sections of the African population and thus distract their attention from the root causes of poverty, hunger, low wages and economic exploitation in this country."
The anti-apartheid group also charged that the campaign was aimed at destroying the ANC and derailing the process of peaceful negotiations under way with the government.
A police spokesman vehemently denied the charge that authorities were involved.
The violence of recent weeks stems from a variety of causes, including tribal animosities and political rivalries between the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha movement. More than 100 Inkatha supporters were arrested after an attack last week, among them a prominent youth leader who allegedly was caught with a trunk full of AK-47 rifles.
The most recent attacks, however, suggest a campaign of terror unrelated to tribal animosities, since the victims have been attacked at random.
The ANC said it believed the goal of these attacks was to "build up a psychosis of fear, insecurity and terror among the people so as to make them more amenable to a regime of martial law."