Srinagar: Seven Amarnath pilgrims, including six women, were killed and at least 12 others wounded when a bus they were travelling in was caught in a crossfire during a clash between militants and the Jammu and Kashmir police in southern Anantnag district on Monday evening. Other reports said 32 people were injured in the attack. This is the worst attack on the Amarnath Yatra since 2000.
The pilgrims were from Gujarat and the bus (GJ09Z 9976) was attacked at around 8.20 pm near Khanabal as it was on its way to Jammu, the police said. The police said the bus was not a part of the official yatra convoy, which was provided with heavy security.
Officials said the militants first attacked a police bunker at Botengo in Anantnag, about 56 km south of here, at 8.15 pm. “The fire was retaliated and there was no report of injuries,” they said. They added that the militants then targeted a police naka party at nearby Khanabal, to which the policemen retaliated and a tourist bus was caught in the crossfire.
A statement by the J&K police here corroborated it, saying that soon after the unsuccessful attack on the policemen at Botengo, the terrorists fired on a police naka near Khanabal. “The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets,” the statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was personally monitoring the situation, strongly condemned the dastardly attack and said India would never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks. He said he had spoken to governor N.N. Vohra and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and promised all possible help from the Centre. Union home minister Rajnath Singh also spoke to Mr Vohra and Ms Mufti.
“Pained beyond words at the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath yatris in J&K. The attack deserves the strongest condemnation from everyone,” Mr Modi tweeted. “My thoughts are with all those who lost their loved ones in the attack in J&K. My prayers with the injured,” he added. In yet another tweet, the PM said: “India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks & the evil designs of hate.”
Defence minister Arun Jaitley termed the attack the “most reprehensible act”, and said: “This incident should add to our determination to eliminate terrorism.”
As part of the tight security arrangements for this year’s yatra, the authorities had a day before the 40-day yatra began on June 29 said no vehicle carrying pilgrims would be allowed to move after nightfall. Also, it was said no yatri vehicle would be allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnle beneath the Pir Panjal range, that connects the state’s Jammu region with the Kashmir Valley, after 3.30 pm.
“This has been done so that the yatris reach the Baltal base camp within seven hours from the tunnel. They don’t have to make a night halt midway,” the officials had said.
The officials had also said while a tight security umbrella was put up for the yatra, the Jammu and Kashmir government made “foolproof arrangements” for the smooth conduct of the event, involving almost all its departments and agencies.
They had said in view of the security situation in the Valley, a multi-layered security arrangement manned by the Army, CRPF, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Jammu and Kashmir police was provided for the safe passage of pilgrims right from their entry into the state at Lakhanpur. The CRPF personnel, apart from performing route duties, were deployed for area-domination during the pilgrimage, the officials said.