Amarnath yatra terror attack: Manhunt on for mastermind Ismail; LeT over-ground workers tailed pilgrims for 2 days

Seven Amarnath pilgrims were killed late on Monday, while twelve including three policemen were injured, after militants attacked a bus full of yatris and a police party in Anantnag along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway in south Kashmir.

Five of those killed were from Gujarat and two from Maharashtra. The deceased from Gujarat were identified as Hasuben Ratila Patal, Surakha Ben and Lakshimiben S Patal from Valsad, Ratan Zeena Bhai Patal of Daman and Prajapati Champaben of Navsari. Those from Maharashtra were Nirmala Ben Thakor, a resident of Palghar, and Usha Mohanla Sonkar of Danu.

Bus could have escaped attack

Officials said that the bus could have escaped the attack had it not been stalled due to a tyre puncture. The bus with 60 pilgrims had started its journey from Srinagar around 5 pm and was expected to cover a distance of 100 kilometres to reach their destination, Srinagar, before 7 pm.

However, the driver discovered a puncture at Sangam, some 50 kilometres from the capital city, forcing him to stop on the road to change the tyre, they said. The flat tyre delayed the journey of the bus, with the licence plate GJ09Z 9976 by one hour, leaving it open to the security risk of travelling on the National Highway after 7 pm.

Security forces cover the national highway from 4 am to 7 pm for the Amarnath yatra as there are definite time schedules for the movement of vehicles carrying pilgrims from Jammu to Kashmir and vice versa.

Bus flouted safety rules

It was the "irresponsible" act of not following security rules laid down that exposed the Amarnath pilgrims to the terror attack in Kashmir, according to a top security official. The official said the bus was neither registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board nor had it adhered to the security detail which is compulsory for the pilgrims in view of the terror threat.

Giving details, on the basis of preliminary inquiries, the official told PTI that the people on board the bus, bearing the Gujarat registration number GJ 09 Z 9976, had completed the yatra two days ago and were in Srinagar since then, deviating from the vehicular part of the Amarnath yatra route which is between Pahalgam and Jammu.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti consoles an Amarnath pilgrim who survived the Anantnag militant attack, before she was airlifted to New Delhi, at the airport in Srinagar on Tuesday. PTI

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti consoles an Amarnath pilgrim who survived the Anantnag militant attack, at the airport in Srinagar on Tuesday. PTI

Centre goes into damage control

Union home minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday reviewed the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and ordered enhanced security for Amarnath pilgrimage. The home minister took stock of the prevailing situation in Kashmir, particularly the two routes to the shrine, located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 12,756 feet during the hour-long meeting, official sources said.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, top officials of the home ministry, intelligence agencies and central paramilitary forces attended the meeting.

Issues like security of Amarnath pilgrims and how to prevent such possible attacks in the future were discussed threadbare. Sources said the home minister directed the officials to ensure enhanced security for the pilgrims. The pilgrimage started on 29 June and will conclude on 7 August.

Immediately after the meeting, the NSA briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the deliberations as well as the steps taken for the security of the Amarnath pilgrims, sources said.

Director General of the CRPF, R Bhatnagar reached Srinagar to review the deployment of central forces in the pilgrimage routes.

Army Chief Bipin Rawat reviewed security situation

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat rushed to Srinagar on Tuesday morning where he held a series of meetings, including with Governor NN Vohra and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. He also chaired a security review meeting in Srinagar which was attended by top army officials, director general of SP Vaid and chief secretary BB Vyas, an army spokesman said.

"The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) condemned the dastardly act of terror against innocent Amarnath pilgrims, and indicated that the security forces will counter this menace with greater resolve," the spokesman said.

The army chief exhorted the commanders and troops to keep up the pressure on the terrorists, the spokesman added.

Family members of an Amarnath pilgrim, killed in Anantnag terror attack, mourn his death during his funeral in Dahanu, Maharashtra on Tuesday. PTI

Family members of an Amarnath pilgrim, killed in Anantnag terror attack, mourn his death during his funeral in Dahanu. PTI

Security forces name Abu Ismail as mastermind

Security agencies launched a manhunt to hunt down the alleged mastermind of the attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Abu Ismail. According to the News18 report, Ismail, a Pakistani national, is considered the successor of Abu Dujana, the slain commander of the LeT in the Valley.

"We have identified Ismail and two other men who were with him during the attack. We have also identified the people who drove them to their spot and who brought them their weapons. We know the direction in which the terrorists are hidden and we’ll hunt them down soon," a senior police Jammu and Kashmir police official told News18.

Security forces claimed that for the first time in the history of Kashmiri militancy, two terror outfits — LeT and Hizbul Mujaheedin — had come together to carry out an operation. They said this was significant because the Hizbul usually refrains from attacking pilgrims.

Lashkar activiated ground-level cells for attack

According to an India Today report, the LeT had activated its over-ground workers (OGWs) to recce the area and find suitable targets.

"The OGWs had been tailing this group from Gujarat comprising mostly women for the last two days and tipped off the terrorists to attack the group when there was no security around," top government sources was quoted by the Mail Today as saying.

Intelligence agencies warned of an attack

According to a report in The Times of India, after a meeting between the intelligence agencies, Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir Police on 25 June, the Centre was warned of a possible terror strike during the yatra.

"Intelligence input received from Anantnag SSP reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 police officers. The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on a yatra convoy which they believe will result in flaring of communal tension throughout the nation," the alert stated.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2017 08:24 AM

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