A car hit a bus carrying CRPF personnel, burst into flames, and exploded at Banihal near the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway on Saturday morning. The car was destroyed, but no one on the bus or the road was injured. The rear of the bus, where the car hit it around 10.30 am, was slightly damaged, police said.
A full 12 hours after the incident, the fate or whereabouts of the driver of the car, a Hyundai Santro coming from the Kashmir side, was not known. In the evening, PTI quoted Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik as saying it was yet to be established whether the incident was a terror attack, or why the car caught fire.
IGP Jammu Zone M K Sinha told The Sunday Express that an IED and some detonators were found inside the wrecked car.
The officer also said that a note in English, written on plain paper apparently by the driver of the Santro, had been found at the site, which raised questions about the incident.
The writer of the note claimed that he was a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen, and that he was “taking the extreme step in view of continued atrocities on Kashmiris since 1947”, Sinha said. “We are verifying the authenticity of the letter,” he added.
A month and a half ago, a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber had rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a bus carrying CRPF personnel in Pulwama. Forty men had died in the attack on February 14, and India had responded by striking a Jaish terror camp in Balakot deep inside Pakistan.
“It has not been established whether it (Saturday’s incident) was a (terror) attack or not. It has also not been established why the vehicle caught fire,” Governor Malik told reporters in Jammu, PTI said. “No explosive of sorts, but nothing can be said (at the moment),” Malik said.
The car appeared to have been carrying two LPG cylinders, one of which exploded. The other cylinder was found at the site of the incident, police said.
“There is an exploded cylinder along with an unexploded one found at the blast site,” IGP Sinha said. Nothing could be said about the cause of the blast until experts gave their report after examining the blast site, he added.
While traffic was restored on the highway a few hours after the incident, police parties were searching the forests on either side of the incident site at Tethar village, 7 km from Banihal town in the Jammu region, until evening.
PTI quoted Banihal Sub-Divisional Police Officer Sajad Sarwar as saying the driver of the Santro was believed to have escaped. “Efforts are on to identify the driver of the vehicle for questioning,” he said.
Sarwar did not rule out a terror angle, PTI said. Earlier in the day, a CRPF spokesperson had said that the incident was being investigated “in respect of all possible angles”.