JUST ABOUT 300 metres away from the spot where the bus carrying Amarnath yatris was attacked on Monday is a camp of the Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group (SOG). And about 1.2 kilometres away is the office of the Deputy Inspector General of Police, South Kashmir, and a big Army installation.
The attack spot, on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, five kilometres ahead of Anantnag town, is also connected through a cluster of villages to Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts. The officials are now investigating whether the attackers fled towards these areas.
A day after the attack, the Army, CRPF and police personnel were out in full force on Tuesday, deployed along the narrow lanes and bylanes leading to these villages. All the shops were closed. But on Monday evening, they were all open when the attack took place.
“I had just finished my dusk prayers and was sitting in my shop when I saw two buses passing by. The lights were on inside the vehicles. As the buses moved ahead, I heard a burst of fire. This was followed by silence, then another burst of fire. After some time, I again heard firing. Then there was silence,” said Mohammad Shafi, who owns a poultry shop on the highway.
Shafi recalled that the bus didn’t stop, but kept moving. “The bus rushed fast towards Khanabal. It was only later that we came to know, through television and internet, that some Amarnath yatris had been killed.”
“My first reaction was that somebody was bursting crackers. But then I saw that everyone was running for cover. I also went to my house, which is behind my shop. After some time, I returned to my shop and downed the shutters. Nobody was around. After about half-an-hour, security forces came and cordoned off the village,’’ said Shafi.
A police official also confirmed that the bus kept moving. “The driver stopped the bus in front of the office of DIG, South Kashmir. The injured yatris were taken inside, and later shifted to the Army’s MI room. Those who were seriously injured were taken to the district hospital in Anantnag,’’ he said.
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“Since the yatra began, there has been high security on the national highway from morning up to 6 pm. On Monday, the security personnel guarding the highway left at 6 pm, soon after the yatra convoy passed. This bus came two hours after the convoy,’’ said Bashir Ahmad, who owns a grocery store on the highway.
After the attack, security forces cordoned off the village, comprising 500-600 households, and detained over a dozen men for questioning. While many of them were later released, five youths including two brothers — Amir and Asif Laway, Jaffar Khan, Mushtaq Ahmad and Showkat — are still in police custody.