| A policeman chases a protester with a tear gas gun as he tries to crouch behind a bush after the explosion in Pulwama. (Reuters)
Srinagar, June 13: A car packed with 40 kg of explosives blew up near a school in a south Kashmir town today, killing at least 14 people amid rising fears that loose cannons among separatist elements were out to derail the peace process.
The explosion, which residents said was the loudest since militancy erupted in the state 16 years ago, sparked public anger at the government. Police had to fire in the air and use tear gas shells to disperse hundreds of protesters.
Witnesses said pieces of human flesh were scattered near the site of the blast in Pulwama, a town south of Srinagar, while sandals, shoes and broken vehicle parts lay strewn across the road, which was stained with blood. Some distance away, textbooks and writing pads lay scattered in a damaged classroom.
Among those killed were three Central Reserve Police Force officers. Sources said the target may have been a CRPF camp, which was barely 50 metres away, but that the timing had gone wrong. Three students were among the more than hundred people injured.
“The people are grief-stricken and angry but it is confirmed that the blast was carried out by militants,” said deputy inspector-general of police Sheikh Owais.
Another police officer said 40 kg of RDX was used. During the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai that killed 257 people, a total of 55-60 kg of RDX was used at the 12 explosion sites.
No militant group has claimed responsibility yet for today’s explosion, the worst incident of violence in Kashmir since moderate separatists began a historic trip to Pakistan on June 4 for talks on the disputed region.
“I have never witnessed such a devastating blast. We are still waiting for details,” said police officer Abdul Rashid.
The hardline faction of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has called a bandh tomorrow.
“The blast is part of a deep-rooted conspiracy to harm the ongoing freedom struggle in the state. We demand an impartial inquiry into the incident to bring the culprits to book,” Geelani said.
He gave a clean chit to militants, saying such incidents could not be the handiwork of those who are sacrificing their lives for the cause of freedom.
But a senior intelligence official, who did not want to be identified, said militants are not happy with the ongoing peace process. “They are also desperate after losing their top brass. So they will try to do such acts in future also,” he added.
Last month, a car bomb killed two persons in Srinagar.
Mohammad Shafi, one of those injured this morning, said he fell down after a “loud explosion” and could only hear people screaming for help. “After a while I saw both my legs were bleeding.”
Local resident Bilal Ahmed said the “sound of the explosion was heard 5 km away and all the windowpanes of buildings within a distance of 1 km were broken”.
The blast damaged dozens of shops and jammed roads as parents rushed to schools and colleges to see if their wards were safe.
“It seemed hell had broken loose all around the town. Residents frantically looked for their relatives and at one time, because of the heavy rush, all the phone links were jammed,” said another resident.