Jammu/New Delhi, July 21: At least seven pilgrims were killed and 38 wounded in two explosions at Banganga en route to the Vaishno Devi shrine late this evening.
In the second big terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiative with Pakistan, two explosions took place within 10 minutes of each other at a community kitchen where devotees are served food on their trek up the mountain path to the shrine or on their return. Authorities fear the death count may climb as the area was crowded when the blasts took place.
Most pilgrims make the journey up in the evening during summer. Police were evacuating bodies and the injured from the accident site stained with blood. Limbs lay scattered around the place.
Jugal Kishore, a Jammu and Kashmir minister, said a grenade was hurled at the devotees a little after 9 pm and another blast went off soon after.
The route to Vaishno Devi that is visited by over 5 million people every year is protected by the security forces and the pilgrims are frisked in at least a dozen places before they are allowed to go up to the shrine nestling in the Trikuta hills of the Shivalik range, about 60 km north of Jammu.
Security was tightened recently following intelligence reports that militants might strike at pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi shrine and the Amarnath cave.
Minister of state for home Chinmayanand, who will visit the site tomorrow, said the blasts were triggered to derail the peace initiative.
Unlike in the past, Delhi refrained from pointing a finger at Pakistan. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts.
“It’s too early to say who is behind (the blasts) and start making accusations,” a home ministry official said. He added that the government would wait until Chinmayanand returned from Jammu with more information.
“It is only after investigations are completed that we will be able to say who is behind the blasts.”
Delhi’s cautious approach is a reflection of the serious effort at peace the Vajpayee government is making with Islamabad.
Even after the attack on an army camp on the outskirts of Jammu last month, in which 12 soldiers died, India had reacted with restraint.