Amarnath Yatra attack: 7 pilgrims killed, 3 cops hurt in Anantnag; Officials suspect LeT, Hizbul hand

Seven Amarnath pilgrims were killed while twelve including three policemen were injured after militants attacked a yatri bus and a police party in Anantnag along the Jammu-Srinagar Highway in south Kashmir on Monday, media reports said. One of those injured is in a critical state.

IGP Munir Khan confirmed the toll and said 12 others including security men were injured in the attack. Internet services in Kashmir have been blocked after the attack.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh are taking stock of the situation. Condemning the attack, Modi tweeted, "Pained beyond words on the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath Yatris in Jammu and Kashmir" but "India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks and the evil designs of hate".

Defence minister Arun Jaitley termed the terrorist attack on Amarnath Yatra as "the most reprehensible act", PTI said.

The Amaranath yatri bus was from Gujarat, government sources revealed. The Jammu-Srinagar Highway has been closed after the attack.

According to police officials, the militants attacked an armoured car of the police at 8.20 pm on Monday, PTI reported. When the police fired back, the militants fled, firing indiscriminately, the official added. "In the firing by militants, seven people, five of them women, were killed, and another seven injured," the official confirmed. The injured have been taken to the Army Base Hospital in Srinagar.

The bus had come from Sonamarg. The pilgrims were on their way back after visiting the Amarnath shrine.

"Some gunshots were heard on Jammu-Srinagar Highway near Batengoo," a police source told IANS.

Reports from the area said the firing took place near Khanabal chowk (which is nearly a kilometre away from Batengoo) and the firing was still on. The area has been cordoned off and a manhunt has been launched to nab the terrorists who escaped after the attack, India Today reported.

 Amarnath Yatra attack: 7 pilgrims killed, 3 cops hurt in Anantnag; Officials suspect LeT, Hizbul hand

Representational image. IBN

According to CNN-News18, the police were escorting the pilgrims when the militants opened fire. However, both India Today and IANS said that the bus was travelling without any escort. The police also claimed that the bus driver had violated rules for the pilgrimage, which states that no yatra vehicle should be on a highway after 7 pm.

NDTV said that the bus was reportedly not a part of the main yatra convoy and was not registered with the shrine board.

The main yatra convoy is escorted by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has now rushed troops to the spot. The report said that around 1.2 lakh pilgrims have registered themselves this year.

A CRPF statement also said the bus was not part of the official yatra and not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board, IANS said.

Eyewitnesses told India Today that no one was accompanying us. "We fled and ran till Khanabal Chowk," they told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh has ordered a probe on how the bus was allowed. "Security is withdrawn at 7.30pm, we are probing how the bus was allowed," he told India Today

According to NDTV, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah condemned the incident and said the attack on yatris was tragic and terrible. His son, Omar Abdullah voiced the fears plaguing pilgrims this year.

A report by News 18 said, in a letter sent to the army, CRPF and range DIGs, Khan had written, "Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials."

The report said that security forces suspect the operation was carried out jointly by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen. There were reportedly three assailants, and one of them, Ismail, arrived on a motorbike and emptied two magazines on pilgrims.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the attack was "an assault on our values and traditions". State minister Naeem Akhtar said, " First time pilgrims have been targeted and this is a dark chapter in Kashmir's history."

Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said that pilgrims have always been respected guests of the state.

Meanwhile, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reacted to the tragedy saying terrorism is unacceptable anywhere in the world. Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson Waheed Para said, "This is the worst form of terrorism." Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi also condemned the attack saying that India will never be intimidated by terrorist cowards. "I share the pain and anguish of families who lost loved ones in the terror attack on innocent Amarnath Yatris today," he tweeted. In another tweet, Gandhi termed the incident as a major security lapse, saying:

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also asked for investigation into lapses in security.

Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Jitendra Singh condemned the attack, IANS reported. "It is not just an attack on the pilgrims, but an attack on the composite culture of the nation. As far as the Government of India is concerned, we have a policy of zero tolerance against terror, whether it is local or from across the border," he said.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad termed the attack "unfortunate", and added that the militants will have to "pay through their nose". He also spoke to the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister.

On Sunday, special prayers were held near the Pahalgam base camp of the annual Amarnath yatra, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage.

The Amarnath Yatra via Pahalgam in south Kashmir is the shorter route as against from Baltal via Sonmarg in Gandarbal district. However, for both routes, pilgrims have to travel through south Kashmir, which is simmering with anger against India and the security forces.

With inputs from agencies.

Updated Date: Jul 11, 2017 07:08:09 IST