Top security officials on Saturday visited the site of the April 20 terrorist attack on an army truck in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch and reviewed the major search and cordon operation launched in the area as any breakthrough eluded the forces for the second day.
Thousands of mourners including local MPs and MLAs gathered as the five jawans, who were killed when their truck was ambushed while carrying fruits and other items to a forward village for Iftar to be hosted by the Rashtriya Rifles unit on Thursday evening, were cremated with full military honours in their native villages.
Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, BSF Director General S L Thaosen and ADGP Mukesh Singh, besides an NSG team visited the attack site at Bhata Dhurian, an area that has remained a preferred infiltration route for terrorists from across the Line of Control because of its topography, dense forest cover and natural caves.
Dwivedi reviewed the security in the border area and the ongoing combing operation to track down the terrorists. The Northern Command said in a tweet that he was briefed on the actions undertaken so far and exhorted the troops to be steadfast in their resolve.
Officials said that around 15-16 people have been detained for questioning.
A high alert has been sounded in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch and traffic has been suspended on the Rajouri-Poonch Highway, they said.
"The cordon-and-search operation is going on in large areas of Bhata Dhurian-Tota Gali and neighbouring areas to hunt down the terrorists involved in the attack. Multiple security agencies are engaged in the operation," a senior officer told PTI.
In October 2021, nine soldiers were killed in two major gunfights with terrorists within four days in the Bhata Dhurian forest area during a search operation, which continued for over three weeks with no trace of terrorists.
The troops involved in the operation are exercising utmost caution as the terrorists may have planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the densely forested area with deep gorges and caves, officials said.
The mortal remains of Havildar Mandeep Singh from Chankoian village, Lance Naik Kulwant Singh from Charik village, Sepoy Harkrishan Singh from Talwandi village and Sepoy Sewak Singh from Bagha village - all in Punjab - and Debashish Biswal from Sakhigopal area of Odisha's Puri were taken to their native places.
Slogans of 'Shaheed Amar Rahe' and 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' rent the air as Kulwant's body reached his village in Moga district in an Army vehicle bedecked with flowers.
A large number of people gathered to pay their last respects to the soldier, whose father was martyred in the Kargil war.
He is survived by his wife, one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and four-month-old son.
Faridkot MP Mohammad Sadique, Moga MLA Amandeep Kaur Arora and senior officials from the district administration, police and army attended the last rites, which were performed with full military honours including a gun salute.
In Ludhiana, after the mortal remains of Mandeep Singh reached his village, his wife, 11-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son saluted him one last time. His son lit his pyre.
In Bathinda, Sewak Singh, who joined the Army in 2018, was laid to rest. He is survived by his father, a daily wager, and two sisters.
AAP MLA Baljinder Kaur, singer Sidhu Moosewala's father Balkaur Singh and officials from the Army, district administration and police attended his last rites.
Harkrishan Singh's father Mangal Singh said he was proud of his son.
He is survived by his wife and two-year-old daughter.
AAP MLA Amansher Singh Kalsi and Deputy Commissioner Himanshu Aggarwal were among those who attended Harkishan's last rites.
The Punjab government on Friday announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 crore each and a job to the kin of the slain soldiers.
In Odisha, Biswal's body reached the Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar on a special Indian Air Force plane. It was then taken to Puri in an Army convoy.
Governor Ganeshi Lal and other dignitaries paid their tributes to Biswal at the airport.
Biswal's elder brother lit his pyre in their native village.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced an ex-gratia of Rs 25 lakh for Biswal's family. He is survived by his wife Sushree Sangeeta and seven-month-old daughter.
In the border hamlet of Sangiote, where the army truck was headed with goods for Iftar when it was attacked by terrorists, Eid celebrations were muted after the Thursday tragedy.
Sangiote has a population of more than 3,500 and over 60 per cent of the men are ex-servicemen.
"After Eid prayers, we are staying back at our homes and there will be no celebrations like visiting relatives, distributing sweets, wearing new clothes or taking children outside,” Sangiote Sarpanch Mukhtiar Khan told PTI.
Khan said the whole village stands with the army.
Amir Khan, another villager, said after the terrorist attack they had convened a condolence meeting. "The participants were unanimous in condemning the terrorist attack and decided to restrict Eid celebrations to ‘namaz’ only,” he said.
Saddam Hussain said a company of the Rashtriya Rifles is deployed in the village and enjoys cordial ties with the villagers.
"The soldiers usually distribute fresh fruits, including watermelons, to the residents for ‘Iftar’ and nobody had imagined such an attack on them just two days ahead of Eid,” he said.
Investigators found bullet marks on the vehicle, which was attacked from three sides, official sources said.
Drones, sniffer dogs and an MI chopper have been deployed in the search-and-combing operation.
The slain soldiers were from a Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for counter-terror operations.
Sources earlier said the attack is suspected to have been carried out by a group of three to four terrorists.
The attackers possibly spent more than a year in Rajouri and Poonch and had adequate knowledge of the terrain, they added.
The Jammu and Kashmir Gaznavi Force (JKGF) is said to be active in the area and its "commander", Rafiq Ahmed alias Rafiq Nayi, hails from the region.
Currently, three-four terrorist groups are active in the region of Rajouri and Poonch, the sources said.
Meanwhile, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah said security forces should not harass innocent people during their operation against the perpetrators of the Poonch terror attack.
"They have started operation in Pooch. They should not arrest innocent people," Abdullah told reporters after offering Eid prayers at the Hazratbal shrine.
All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council chairman Hazrat Syed Naseeruddin Chishti has condemned the Poonch terrorist attack and said the entire country is with the armed forces.
Such attacks are part of a "conspiracy to defame India" because a G20 meeting is scheduled to take place in Kashmir, he said.
Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.