Three persons were killed and 21 injured in a grenade attack on a Nirankari sect congregation at Adliwala village, on the outskirts of Amritsar, on Sunday afternoon. While police said it appeared to be a “terrorist act”, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the “possibility of involvement of ISI-backed Khalistani/ Kashmiri terror groups could not be ruled out”.
In a statement, Singh said preliminary investigations revealed that two men who had covered their faces — one had a beard — forced their way into the Nirankari Bhavan by waving a pistol. They detained the sewadar, lobbed the grenade into the prayer room, and fled on a motorcycle.
A small crater was formed by the impact of the explosion, and was being examined by the forensic team. The safety valve of the grenade has also been found and was being examined, he said.
Police said the incident occurred at about 12.30 pm. The Nirankari Bhavan, on a narrow link road connecting Adliwala and Rajasansi, is just 2 km away from the Amritsar international airport. About 200 people, including many women, were reported to be inside at the time of the attack. Police found no CCTV cameras on the premises.
“It is being considered as a terrorist attack, because the target was a religious group and not any individual. At this stage, it is difficult to link it with any terrorist organisation,” said Director General of Police Suresh Arora. “I have inspected the spot. A hand grenade was used in the attack. Our forensic teams have inspected the spot. The National Investigation Agency is also sending its team,” he said.
“It is suspected to be a terrorist attack. We are investigating it from all angles. No arrests have been made so far,” said Amritsar Police Commissioner S S Srivastava.
The victims have been identified as Sandeep Singh (17) of Rajasansi, Sukhdev Kumar (58) of Meerankot, and Kuldeep Singh (40) of Baggankalan. The Chief Minister announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to their families.
Mehakdeep Singh, brother of Sandeep who was a Class IX student, said: “Sandeep was sitting in the front row near the stage. I was sitting at the back. I felt something being hurled over my head and landing near the stage. Suddenly, there was a blast and the hall was filled with smoke… There was chaos, everyone was running out. Sandeep was unconscious, his leg had been hit. We rushed him to the hospital, where he was declared dead.”
He said his family participated in the religious congregation every Sunday. “Our mother, Sandeep, I and my wife had come today. We have a small shop in Amritsar… We have been followers of this sect for the last 15 years,” he said.
“Two young men entered the Satsang Bhavan and lobbed a grenade at the people who were praying. There was a blast,” said Paramjit Kaur, an eyewitness.
“I was sitting in my office when the blast took place,” said Onkar Singh (62), head of the Rajasansi branch of the Nirankari sect. His wife and son were injured in the attack. Guru Desa Singh, one of their preachers, also sustained injuries and has been admitted to hospital.
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“I have been associated with the Nirankari sect since 1969. I saw the clashes between Nirankaris and Sikhs in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But even at that time, our branch always remained peaceful… We do not have any enmity with anybody,” said Onkar Singh.
In his statement, the chief minister warned against attempts to “disturb the peace and harmony of the state”. “Though the state had been hit by a series of cases of targeted attacks since 2015/16, this was the first attempt, in a long time, to disturb the peace in the state through indiscriminate killings,” he said.
“It strengthened the belief that Pakistan is continuing with its nefarious activities to disturb the state’s peace,” he said. “Fifteeen such terror modules have been busted in the last 18 months, with Kashmiri terror links also indicated in some instances, as evidenced in the arrest of Kashmiri students from Jalandhar and in the Maqsudan police station grenade blast case,” he said.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the “strongest possible action” would be taken. “Spoke to the Chief Minister of Punjab… who has apprised me of the situation in the wake of grenade attack in Amritsar. Strongest possible action will be taken against the perpetrators of this crime,” he tweeted.
Police have registered a case against unidentified persons under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act.
The attack took place at a time when the Punjab Police are on high alert, following intelligence inputs on the presence of six-seven Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operatives in the state. The security agencies were also placed on alert after four persons snatched an SUV at gunpoint, near Madhopur in Pathankot district a few days ago.
Recently, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had also cautioned about attempts to revive insurgency in Punjab, and said there was a need to remain alert.