SRINAGAR: Terrorists tonight killed seven Amarnath pilgrims from Gujarat, including six women, and injured 19 others as they struck at a bus in Kashmir's Anantnag district, in the worst attack on the annual pilgrimage since the year 2000.
The bus bearing the registration number GJ09Z 9976 was attacked at around 8.20 pm near Khanabal when it was on its way to Jammu, police said.
WATCH THE VIDEO: Militants attack Amarnath pilgrims, seven killed
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 were travelling. Seven of the pilgrims were killed and 32 were injured, the police said.
The police and top government sources said the bus driver had violated rules for the pilgrimage, which state that no yatra vehicle should be on the highway after 7 pm as the security cover is withdrawn after that.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was personally monitoring the situation, stongly 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 N N 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," Modi tweeted. "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 40-day annual yatra to the 3,880-metre high cave shrine of Amarnath commenced from both 28.2 km traditional Pahalgam route in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district and 9.5 kms Batal route in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir from June 29 and will end on 'Raksha Bandhan' on August 7.
This year over 35,000 security personnel including police, CRPF, SSB, ITBP, BSF and army men were deployed for yatra duty to ensure safe passage of yatris and smooth conduct of yatra.
The security measures were tightened this year in view of intelligence inputs that militants were planning an attack on the yatra, a security official said.
He said security agencies had deployed Road Opening Parties (ROPs) on the highway stretch to prevent militant attacks.
“Besides Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) were deployed at some sensitive and strategic places to deal with any situation,” he said adding drones and satellite tracking systems were put in place and CCTV cameras installed at sensitive places along Amarnath route to monitor the movement of people.
The yatris were instructed to follow the security forces and their directions during their movement in the Valley, he said.
Over 1 lakhs yatris have visited the cave shrine since the commencement of annual yatra on June 29.
(With inputs from PTI)