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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 July 2024

Jammu & Kashmir: Nine pilgrims killed, 33 injured in terror attack

The militants fired on the bus, which was on its way to Katra while returning from the Shiv Khouri shrine in Reasi, Jammu

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 10.06.24, 05:14 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Jammu and Kashmir was rocked by its deadliest militant attack on civilians in years just ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in Delhi, the ambush leaving nine pilgrims dead and 33 injured and causing their bus to plunge into a deep gorge.

The militants fired on the bus, which was on its way to Katra while returning from the Shiv Khouri shrine in Reasi, Jammu.

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Horrific videos showed bodies lying on the rocky terrain and the injured writhing in pain as dozens of locals rushed to their rescue.

The attack, which raises fresh doubts about the Centre’s claim of having restored normalcy to J&K, seems to have been timed ahead of the swearing-in to send a message that militancy remains a formidable challenge for the forces.

Ram Singh, a former panchayat head from the locality, said the driver of the bus was shot in the head and abdomen, offering an insight into how the vehicle fell into the gorge. Local poeple, the first to reach the spot after the militants had fled, had a tough time rescuing the injured and lifting them on their shoulders and stretchers.

“The incident occurred at a place called Bharak, a couple of kilometres from my village, Teryath. Several injured and dead were brought to our hospital. Four bodies, including that of the driver, are lying here. The injured have been shifted to other hospitals,” Singh told The Telegraph around 9pm.

“Apart from the driver, a woman was at the receiving end of the barrage of bullets. Several people have bullet injuries.”

Singh said the attack was carried out by two or three militants around 6pm, about an hour before the swearing-in began in Delhi.

He added that the bus was returning from Shiv Khouri, around 9km away, and was headed to Katra.

“We heard the pilgrims were scheduled to board a train at Katra. We are told that the militants continued firing at the bus while it was going down the gorge,” Singh said.

Reasi senior superintendent of police Mohita Sharma said the rescue operation was complete and nine people were feared dead. She added that 33 were injured.

“There are no two opinions that it was an unfortunate incident. Initially, we got reports that militants had laid an ambush and fired at the bus. The driver lost control and the bus fell into the gorge,” Sharma told reporters near the ambush site.

“They (dead and injured) are not local. Their identities are yet to be ascertained. They could be from Uttar Pradesh.”

The SSP added that the police had been on high alert in the area and that the Shiv Khouri shrine had been fully secured.

“We had carried out area-domination activities in the surrounding areas. Firing practice with the village defence guards was also done,” she said.

Till 10.30pm, Modi had not reacted to the attack but the Congress and other parties condemned it and said it reflected the actual situation in J&K.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said the attack was extremely tragic but “this shameful incident is a true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir”.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah condemned the attack, saying it was unfortunate “to see areas that had previously been cleared of all militants see a return of militancy”.

The Jammu region has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in the last few years, prompting the forces to remain on high alert.

The last major attack on civilians was in Dhangri village in 2023, in which seven people were killed and a dozen injured.

Police sources said Sunday’s attack was the deadliest in a long time. They said several victims had died from injuries caused by the accident.

The area falls on the border of the Reasi and Rajouri districts. the Rajouri and Poonch districts have emerged as the new hub of militancy after the 2019 scrapping of Article 370, seen as a deliberate strategy by Pakistan to open a new front against the Indian forces.

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