Seven Amarnath pilgrims, including five women, were killed and 15 injured when militants attacked a bus carrying at least 56 passengers at Botengo village near Anantnag, on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, in South Kashmir on Monday evening. According to reports, most of the victims are from Gujarat.
The attack took place near a security camp on the national highway. A J&K Police spokesman said that at around 8:10 pm, militants first attacked a police bunker at Botengo. “There was retaliatory fire. No injuries were reported. The militants then opened fire at a police naka at Khanabal, and the police returned fire again,” said the spokesman.
“A tourist bus was hit by bullets, and about 18 were injured. Six of them died, while the others are undergoing treatment,” said the spokesman. He said the bus, with a Gujarat numberplate, GJ09Z0976, was on its way from Baltal to Jammu, and was not part of the yatra convoy.
Additional Director General, CRPF, J&K Zone, Sachchidanand Shrivastav told The Indian Express that seven pilgrims were killed in the attack. “There were around 60 people in the bus which came under attack. The bus was coming from Baltal and had reached Botengo when the attack took place. Many other pilgrims are injured, several have suffered serious injuries,’’ he said.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express that the pilgrims had not registered themselves with the authorities. “The main convoy had already crossed the Jawahar Tunnel at the time of attack,” he said.
“The yatris were esteemed guests of Kashmir and the perpetrators have dealt a death blow to the ethos and culture of the state,” said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who rushed to the spot. “It is a gruesome attack, not only on unsuspecting guests, but a brazen attack on Kashmir and Kashmiriyat… All of us shall have to rise against this scourge of violence, the sooner the better,” she said.
Condemning the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “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. India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks & the evil designs of hate.” He added that he had spoken to Mehbooba and assured all possible assistance.
One of the injured, Amit, who identified himself as a cook on the bus, told officials at the district hospital in Anantnag that firing took place for 40-60 seconds. “Bullets started coming from everywhere. Everybody was crying. I saw many passengers were lying in a pool of blood. We were on our way from Baltal to Jammu,” he told them.
Earlier in the evening, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Zone, Muneer Khan, who also rushed to the spot, said six pilgrims had died. “Let me find out the exact situation on the ground,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Army, CRPF, and J&K Police Special Operations Group have launched a combing operation in the area, and a high alert has been declared on the entire highway.
Security has been beefed up at the Jammu base camp too. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval called a meeting at South Block, which was attended by top officials from Home, Defence and Intelligence agencies. Officials said there was no immediate plan to call off the yatra.