Despite drone-mounted cameras, jammers, police dogs, bullet-proof bunkers, and satellite tracking devices employed to keep Amarnath yatris safe, terrorists killed seven pilgrims, including six women, and injured 19 others on a bus in Kashmir's Anantnag district on Monday, one of the worst militant strikes since 2001.
Five of those killed were from Gujarat and two from Maharashtra.
The deceased from Gujarat were identified as Hasuben Ratila Patal, Surakha Ben and Lakshimiben S Patal from Valsad, Ratan Zeena Bhai Patal of Daman and Prajapati Champaben of Navsari, a Jammu and Kashmir police spokesperson said.
Those from Maharashtra were Nirmala Ben Thakor, a resident of Palghar, and Usha Mohanla Sonkar of Danu. Police said 19 pilgrims were injured in the attack and their condition is stable.
According to media reports, the bus carrying the passengers was not part of the Amarnath convoy that gets heavy security cover. It was plying independently and after 7 pm, when security is withdrawn, a fact that militants took advantage of. Sanjay Patel of Umiya Travels told Indian Express that he had sold the vehicle to one Jawahar Desai of Om Travels in Valsad. The ownership is now under scrutiny.
PTI reported on 28 June that intelligence agencies had received an input about an imminent attack. "Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials," according to a letter sent by Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) Muneer Khan to the Army, the CRPF, and range DIGs in the state.
"The input is assessed to be a HUMINT (human intelligence) and it needs further corroboration," the IGP said in the letter.
The bus had the registration number GJ09Z 9976 was attacked around 8:20 pm near Khanabal when it was on its way to from Srinagar Jammu, police said.
CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told the Express, "the yatris had not registered themselves, as is advised, and did not even become part of the yatra convoy, which is escorted by security forces, both to and from Amarnath, everyday. They also violated the 7 pm curfew on movement of yatris."
A security official said the victims had performed the yatra two days ago and had subsequently moved to Srinagar. Today, they were going from Srinagar to Jammu when they became the target of the terrorist attack. Police said the bus was not a part of the yatra convoy which is being provided elaborate security.
The terrorists first attacked a bullet-proof bunker of the police at Botengoo, a police official said, adding it was retaliated. There were no injuries in this attack.
Thereafter the terrorists fired on a police picket near Khannabal, the police added. When the police retaliated, the militants fled, firing indiscriminately in which the bus carrying the yatris got caught.
Seven of the pilgrims were killed and 32 were injured, the police said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was personally monitoring the situation, strongly condemned the dastardly attack and asserted that India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks and evil designs of hate. He said he spoke to Governor NN Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and assured all possible assistance required.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh also spoke to Vohra and Mehbooba.
Pained beyond words on the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath Yatris in J&K. The attack deserves strongest condemnation from everyone.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 10, 2017
"My thoughts are with all those who lost their loved ones in the attack in J&K. My prayers with the injured," he added.
In yet another tweet, the prime minister said, "India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks & the evil designs of hate."
The Home Minister, in his telephonic call to Vohra and Mehbooba, sought details of the attack.
He told them to ensure that the injured people are given adequate medical treatment.
He also directed officials to ensure foolproof security in future.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley termed the attack as the "most reprehensible act" and said "This incident should add to our determination to eliminate terrorism." The attack was condemned by other leaders as well.
The last time the Amarnath yatra was targeted was in 2001 when terrorists had struck in the Sheshnag area close to the holy cave of Amarnath, killing 13 people. Prior to that, terrorists had attacked Amarnath pilgrims on August 1, 2000 in Pahalgam area, killing 30 people, who also included porters.
The VHP, Bajrang Dal, NC, Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party have called for a bandh in Jammu today. Security for the Vaishnodevi shrine has been enhanced. The yatra was going on as usual, but a high alert was sounded, sources said.
Here are some of the official reactions:
Every right thinking Kashmiri must today condemn the killing of the Amarnath yatris and say, unequivocally - this is #NotInMyName— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) July 10, 2017
Deeply saddened by the attack on #AmarnathYatra pilgrims. My prayers and thoughts with all those affected.— Anil Kumble (@anilkumble1074) July 11, 2017
Saddening to see innocent lives being taken. Prayers for the victims & may God give strength to the families of the #AmarnathYatra pilgrims— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) July 10, 2017
I share the pain & anguish of families who lost loved ones in the terror attack on innocent Amarnath Yatris today— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) July 10, 2017