Terrorists opened fire on a bus returning from the holy shrine of Amarnath, late on Monday, killing seven pilgrims, and injuring 19. In one of the worst terror strikes to take place in the controversial region of Jammu and Kashmir, militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba fired indiscriminately at the bus which was carrying over 50 pilgrims from Gujarat and Maharashtra, most of whom were sleeping when the vehicle was attacked.
Reports said that the vehicle was not part of the official tour for the annual Amarnath Yatra, meaning it was not given the customary police protection. While the number of attackers are yet to be confirmed, it is said that they first opened fire on an armoured police car whose occupants fired back. Before that, they had reportedly opened fire on a security check-post just 600 metres from where the bus was attacked. Police officials said the bus, which was registered in Gujarat, had violated the rules of the pilgrimage which bans buses from travelling on a highway after 7 pm for security reasons. A passenger said, “We were sleeping when the firing started from both the sides. We don't know how many people were there.”
Journey for Amarnath usually begins from Jammu, a good 200 km from the shrine. The 40-day long Yatra to the holy cave situated high in the mountains of South Kashmir commenced on June 28. Over 40,000 troops are assigned to guard the pilgrims and their route, and the entire area boasts of unprecedented security, including a satellite tracking system. J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti released a statement saying, “This is an assault on our values and traditions which we hold dear. We will do everything to root out the perpetrators of this heinous crime.”
Bodies brought to Gujarat
Bodes of the all the deceased arrived in Surat early on Tuesday (July 11) and the Gujarat government announced Rs 1000,000 compensation to the family of each of the dead. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani received the bodies, along with the 19 injured and 32 others who were flown from Srinagar. “The family members of the killed pilgrims will be provided Rs 1000,000 compensation by the state government while the injured will be given Rs 200,000,” he announced. Of the seven who died, six of them were women and two of them were from Maharashtra.
Driver ensures safety: Drives through bullet shower
If it weren't for Gujarat's Salim Sheikh, the man behind the wheels of the bus that endured a hail of bullets, instinctive decision to continue driving and try and escape as many bullets as possible the number of casualties would have without an ounce of doubt, been worse than now. As the group of terrorists attacked the lonely vehicle driving through Anantnag district of Kashmir, at 8.30 pm, it was up to Salim to save the lives of all his passengers. “God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop,” he said.
His cousin Javed Mirza, from Valsad, said, “He told me that he did not stop there when terrorists fired, only looked for a safer spot for pilgrims. He couldn't save seven lives, but managed to move 50 people to a safe place, I'm proud of him.” CM Rupani acknowledged Salim's role and announced that he would nominate him for a bravery award. “Want to thank bus driver, Salim for saving lives of people when firing was continuing. Will nominate his name for bravery award,” he said.
Intelligence Sources reveal they knew Amarnath Yatra was a target
Indian Intelligence agencies claim to be aware that a group of militants, led by a man identified as Abu Ismail, LeT leader from Pakistan, were planning a strike in Kashmir for weeks in advance. However, they failed to anticipate that the militants could target pilgrims, as so far, they have avoided inflicting civilian casualties. Senior security officials familiar with the attack said the terrorists had tracked the passage of the Amarnath Yatra convoys for days. As the convoy started from July 10, from the Baltal base camp towards Jammu, about 350 km away, one of the buses with a Gujarat registration was left behind due to a punctured tyre. The delay separated the bus, posing major threat to its passengers.
In other updates, a letter from a top police officer to other security officials warned of an intelligence alert saying “terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 200 police officers and officials.” It said the attack could target a Yatra convoy “which they will believe will result in flaring of communal tensions throughout the nation.”
Meanwhile, Dharmic Community organisations across UK have been requested to hold a "Shok Sabha." We mourn the death of seven innocent pilgrims. We express our profound solidarity with their families and those injured in the appalling crime. Kashmir Voice International also held an emergency meeting in London and condemned the killing of innocent Amarnath yatris in South Kashmir.