At least seven people died and 19 others were injured after terrorists attacked a bus ferrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday night.
The attack took place at around 8.20 pm near Khanabal Anantnag district where terrorists first attack two police posts before fleeing and then opening fire at the bus. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who spent the night in Anantnag among the survivors of the attack, decried the terrorist strike, saying Kashmiris’ heads hang in shame.
The Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries declared a shutdown in Jammu today following Monday night’s attack on the Amarnath pilgrims. The Jammu bandh call was supported by the opposition National Conference, which called the attack part of a nefarious design to vitiate the secular fabric of Jammu and Kashmir.
The attack on the bus (GJ 09 Z 9976) was part of a series of strikes that first targeted security personnel. Terrorists first fired upon a bullet-proof police bunker in Botengoo. When they faced resistance, the militants fled and subsequently attacked a police picket near Khannabal.
There, they opened indiscriminate fire after policemen posted at the picket retaliated to the attack. It was then that the bus, which was from Gujarat, came under the terrorists’ fire, leading to the deaths of seven pilgrims – five from Gujarat and two from Maharashtra.
The deceased from Gujarat were identified as Hasuben Ratila Patal, Surakha Ben and Lakshimiben S Patal from Valsad, Ratan Zeena Bhai Patal of Daman and Prajapati Champaben of Navsari. Those from Maharashtra were Nirmala Ben Thakor, a resident of Palghar, and Usha Mohanla Sonkar of Danu.
The 19 others who suffered injuries in the attack were said to be stable were moved to the Army Base Hospital in Srinagar. Authorities were in the process of airlifting them to New Delhi from Srinagar.
SECURITY PROTOCOL VIOLATED
The bus, which was registered in Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district, was not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board and was not part of a pilgrim convoy, the Central Reserve Police Force said in a statement.
According to officials, the pilgrims on the bus had finished their yatra two days ago and had subsequently moved to Srinagar. On Monday, the bus, which was without a police escort, was transporting them from Srinagar to Jammu when the pilgrims became a target of the attack.
Officials also said that the bus had violated the 7 pm highway curfew for Amarnath yatris. Security cover for Amarnath Yatra convoys is withdrawn after 7 pm and no buses carrying pilgrims are supposed to be commuting on a highway.
‘KASHMIRIS’ HEADS HANG IN SHAME’
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who visited patients and survivors of the attack in Anantnag, said she did not have enough words to condemn the attack.
The incident has left Kashmiris’ heads hanging in shame,” Mufti said. “The attack is a blot on the name of Muslims and the people of Kashmir.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was briefed on the deadly attack on Amarnath pilgrims by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, took to Twitter to express his grief.
“Pained beyond words on the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath Yatris in J&K. The attack deserves strongest condemnation from everyone. My thoughts are with all those who lost their loved ones in the attack in J&K. My prayers with the injured,” Modi said in a series of tweets. “India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks & the evil designs of hate. I have spoken to the Governor and Chief Minister of J&K and assured all possible assistance required.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said: “The attack cannot be condemned strongly enough.”
He added that such an attack was expected in spite of recent successes against militants by security forces. “The one thing we had all feared this year during the yatra. In spite of recent successes against militants and unprecedented force presence,” he tweeted.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley termed the attack as the “most reprehensible act” and said “This incident should add to our determination to eliminate terrorism.”
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi termed the attack on Amarnath pilgrims a “crime against humanity”. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi too commented, saying, “I share the pain & anguish of families who lost loved ones in the terror attack on innocent Amarnath Yatris today.”
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani too condemned the “cowardly attack” and said, “India will never get bogged down by such acts”.
YATRA TO GO ON
Internet and broadband services were suspended in the region following Monday night’s attack, the worst involving Amarnath pilgrims since 2001.
Authorities, however, said that the Amarnath Yatra will continue, even as special forces were rushed to Anantnag. A batch of Amarnath Yatris left for Batal and Pahalgam early today morning with heightened security.
The Amarnath Yatra yatra had begun against the backdrop of intelligence inputs that terrorists were planning to eliminate at least 100 pilgrims in attacks this year. This prompted authorities to set in place the ‘highest level’ of security for Amarnath Yatris.
This was the first time Amarnath Yatra pilgrims came under attack since 2001, when terrorists had struck in the Sheshnag area close to the holy cave of Amarnath, killing 13 people.
Before that, 30 people, including porters, lost their lives after terrorists attacked a group of pilgrims on August 1, 2000 in Pahalgam.