A day after seven Amarnath yatris were killed when their bus was attacked by militants in Batengoo, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police have told the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that the bus was attacked twice, in quick succession. In a preliminary report to the MHA, the J&K Police have said that “unknown gunmen” first opened fire at the bus at 8.17 pm, near Habba Khaton petrol pump, while it was returning from Amarnath to Jammu.
“The bus driver, Saleem, sped past, but there was a second attack about 75 metres away from the first spot. He kept driving till he reached Khannabal, where he spotted a police party and halted the vehicle. They were taken to Anantnag police lines where the injured were treated,” said an MHA official, quoting the J&K Police report.
According to the report, the bus suffered maximum damage on the right, so passengers sitting on this side received serious injuries.
On Monday night, security officials had said that the militants first attacked a police bunker at Batengoo, and then a police naka at Khanabal. In both cases, they said, the police had returned fire.
“The information gathered yesterday was preliminary, and one has to go by what the state police say because they are the ones investigating. There was an attempt on one of our camps, Arwani, located near the attack site. We are investigating the matter,” said CRPF DG R R Bhatnagar today. “The group visited the shrine on July 8 and since they were not registered with the shrine board, they did not follow the security protocol… The bus reached Pantha Chowk on July 10, where the driver realised that one of the tyre was flat. After getting it fixed, the pilgrims started towards Jammu at 4.40 pm. They stayed in the area for nearly two hours,” says the J&K Police report.
In Srinagar, J&K Minister Nayeem Akthar, who visited Anantnag late on Monday night, said Abu Ismail of the Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the attack. “The gang of gunmen belonging to LeT and led by Ismail from Pakistan identified as perpetrators of yatra attack. Police on hot pursuit,’’ tweeted Akthar, after he and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti met security officials in South Kashmir.
Sources said Ismail is active in Kulgam area and is the senior most Lashkar ‘commander’ in Kulgam area of South Kashmir. While no militant group has claimed responsibility, both the Lashkar and United Jihad Council (an amalgam of several militant groups based in PoK) have condemned the attack.
“The investigation is still in its early stage. We will unveil the attackers,’’ said a senior police officer. Sources said the village where the attack took place is connected with many areas of Kulgam district, where the Lashkar is known to be present. Police are also looking at whether the militants were helped by some local OGWs.
Several security review meetings were held in the Valley today. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat also chaired a high-level security meeting at 15 Corps headquarters.
“The Army Chief chaired a security review meeting which was attended by the Chinar Corps Commander, Chief Secretary and DGP (J&K). The chief condemned the dastardly act of terror against innocent Amarnath pilgrims, and indicated that the security forces will counter this menace with greater resolve. The Chief exhorted the commanders to keep up the pressure on the terrorists as had been witnessed in recent successful operations in the Valley,’’ said a defence spokesman. He said Rawat also met Mehbooba and Governor N N Vohra.
Vohra, who is the head of the Amarnath Shrine Board, also chaired a high-level security review meeting.
A central team headed by Minister of State (Home) Hansraj Ahir also arrived in Srinagar and held a security review meeting with the state administration.
In Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the security situation and ordered enhanced security for the Amarnath Yatra. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, top officials of the MHA, intelligence agencies and central paramilitary forces attended the meeting.
Immediately after the meeting, the NSA briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the deliberations as well as the steps taken for the security of the Amarnath pilgrims.