New Delhi: Seven pilgrims, most of them women, were killed on Monday night in Jammu and Kashmir when terrorists opened fire on a bus returning from the Amarnath shrine. At least 20 more people were injured in one of the worst terror strikes in the state.
- Seven Amarnath pilgrims killed after terrorists fired at their bus
- At least 20 more injured in one of the worst terror strikes in the state
- LeT behind attack, mastermind is Pak terrorist Ismail, says police
The police in Kashmir say the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the attack and the mastermind is a Pakistani terrorist, Abu Ismail.
The pilgrims' bus was surrounded on three sides by the terrorists near a security checkpost at Anantnag and fired at. The same terrorists had first fired at an armoured police car around 8:30 pm.
The bus, which had pilgrims from Gujarat and Maharashtra, was on its way back from the Amarnath shrine located in a narrow gorge at the end of a valley nearly 50 km from Pahalgam. Police sources say the rules of the pilgrimage bans buses from travelling on a highway after 7 pm for security reasons but the bus had been delayed because of a breakdown. The bus was also reportedly not part of the official tour, which means that it did not have the standard police escort.
This morning, more than 3,000 pilgrims headed for Amarnath, many of them saying nothing would stop them from completing their pilgrimage. The number of vehicles escorting them has been increased by half.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh had called a meeting to review security in Jammu and Kashmir, especially of the Amarnath pilgrimage, which takes place every year under the protection of about 40,000 troops. For the first time this year, the arrangements include drones and satellite tracking.
Munir Khan, a senior police officer in Kashmir, said it appeared to be a revenge attack after a major Lashkar unit was busted in the Valley a day before. The police said they received startling information about recent terror attacks in Anantnag after the arrest of Sandeep Kumar Sharma, a resident of Uttar Pradesh who was himself involved in three major attacks on the army and the police in the last month.
A letter from Mr Khan to other security officials on June 25 had warned of an intelligence input that said "terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 200 police officers and officials." The letter said the attack could target a Yatra convoy "which they believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation." The police officer said in the letter that further corroboration was needed but an attack could not be ruled out.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying he was "pained beyond words", tweeted last night: "India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks and the evil designs of hate."
The attack is "an assault on our values and traditions", said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, adding: "The head of every Kashmiri hangs in shame."
About 100,000 pilgrims have already completed the journey to the Amarnath shrine that began late last month and is due to end in late August. The journey begins from Jammu, which is 200 km from the shrine.