Car bomb was new tactic; CRPF's route-check SOP under scanner
Militants have “very rarely” used cars as the medium to launch suicide bombing attacks in Kashmir, many in the security establishment said after the CRPF massacre in Pulwama on Thursday that was reminiscent of war-zone ambushes in Afghanistan or Syria.
A Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide attacker rammed a car full of explosives into a bus that was part of a CRPF convoy of over 2,500 personnel travelling on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway.
“Attacks involving a suicide bomber ramming an explosives-laden car into another vehicle are usually seen in Afghanistan and Syria,” an Intelligence Bureau official said.
Security officials could recall only one instance of such car bombings in insurgency-wracked Kashmir — in 2000. Firing and IED blasts are the common modes of attack in the Valley.
Sources in the security establishment said that at a recent security meeting of the Union home ministry, the threat of car suicide attacks was discussed based on intelligence inputs.
“Intelligence reports have been pouring in for the past one year warning of such attacks. But there was no viable options available to combat such a threat,” said a security official, adding that extremely powerful explosives were used on Thursday.
The sources pointed to a “serious breach of security” as militants are suspected to have kept a close watch on the movement of the convoy. “It seems to be a well-planned attack and the casualties could have been more. The initial report points to a serious security breach,” said a Union home ministry official.
The official said the stretch on which the attack took place was “largely believed to have been sanitised of terror activities”.
“How is it possible that despite sanitisation the terrorists managed to carry out an attack of this magnitude? Only a detailed investigation will ascertain whether there was any violation of the standard operating procedure in sanitising the route,” the official said.
CRPF director-general R.R. Bhatnagar said 2,500 CRPF personnel were part of the convoy. He said the convoy had started from Jammu and was travelling to Srinagar.
“The bus that was attacked had 35-40 occupants. This is the worst attack the CRPF has seen in recent times. This kind of blast is rare in Kashmir and we will have to investigate if there was any violation of the SOP,” Bhatnagar said.
CRPF sources said so many personnel were being transported together because the Srinagar-Jammu Highway had been shut for the past two days owing to bad weather. Usually, around 1,000 personnel are part of a convoy, but Thursday’s group was 2,547-strong.
A road-opening party had been deployed and the convoy had armoured counter-terror vehicles, officials said.
The bus also had bullet marks, suggesting that there had been other terrorists who fired at the convoy from hiding as the lone militant rammed his explosives-packed car into the target.
The home ministry termed it a “possible suicide attack”, but there was no confirmation on the manner in which it was executed. CRPF inspector-general (operations) in Kashmir, Zulfiqar Hassan, described it as a “vehicle-bound attack” and said Jammu and Kashmir police had started a probe.
The scene of the incident is not very far from the Commando Training Centre at Lethpora, which was stormed by Jaish terrorists on December 31, 2017, killing five CRPF personnel, PTI reported.
The Srinagar-Jammu Highway has been witness to several terror attacks on the security forces. The CRPF bore the brunt of an attack at Pampore, less than 7km from Lethpora, in June 2016, losing eight jawans while 22 others suffered injuries.