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44 Indian troops killed in IHK bus blast

By Agencies
February 15, 2019

ISLAMABAD: In a major incident, at least 44 Indian soldiers were killed and dozens injured in a bomb blast on Srinagar-Jammu highway in Awantipora area of Pulwama district, Thursday.

According to Kashmir Media Service (KMS), the incident took place when an explosive-laden car hit a Central Reserve Police Force bus. Authorities say the death toll may rise. The traffic was suspended on the highway following the blast. Indian troops cordoned off the entire area and launched search operation.

Senior resistance leaders, Syed Ali Gillani and Chairman Hurriyat Forum, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in their separate statements in Srinagar expressed serious concern over the killing of a teenage boy and injuries to twenty eight other students in Kupwara and Pulwama districts in mysterious blasts.

Syed Ali Gillani termed the occurrence of back-to-back blasts as a well thought-out conspiracy against the freedom struggle. Meanwhile, complete shutdown was observed in the territory for the second consecutive day on Thursday against the Indian designs to change demography of the territory by revoking articles 35-A and 370 of the Indian Constitution.

The Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Range) SP Pani told News18 that the toll is expected to rise. Authorities have suspended internet and mobile data services in the area. The oifficials said Pulwama-based militant Adil Ahmad, was the main perpetrator. In a statement, a Jaish spokesperson Muhammad Hassan said the attack had destroyed “dozens of forces’ vehicles”, Rising Kashmir reported.

In a video released after the attack, Adil is seen armed with rifles and standing in front of what appears to be the outfit’s banners, NDTV reported. “After a year’s wait, I have got the chance to do what I joined the Jaish for,” he said in the video. “By the time this video reaches you, I will be in heaven... this is my last message for the people of Kashmir.”

More than 2,500 CRPF personnel were travelling in a convoy of 78 vehicles when they were ambushed on the the Srinagar-Jammu highway. Many of the soldiers were returning from leave and rejoining duty in the Valley. The bus that was attacked belonged to the 54th battalion of the CRPF and had 44 personnel on board, said unidentified officials. The convoy had left Jammu around 3.30 am and was supposed to reach Srinagar before sunset. “It was a large convoy and about 2,500 personnel were travelling in multiple vehicles,” said CRPF Director General RR Bhatnagar. “Some shots were also fired at the convoy.” The CRPF (Operations) Inspector General Zulfiqar Hassan told ANI that the Jammu and Kashmir Police have taken up the investigation. “The injured have been shifted to hospital,” he said. “A post-blast analysis is being done at the spot.”

A 12-member team of the National Investigation Agency, headed by an officer of the rank of inspector general, will reportedly visit the blast site on Friday morning. A forensic team of the central agency will also reach Pulwama on Friday to assist the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The state police later registered a case. “The officers investigating this terror crime are at work to establish the full circumstances which led to the blast,” ANI quoted an unidentified police officer as saying. According to local news agencies, a red alert has been issued across Kashmir.

The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik and will visit Srinagar on Friday. According to the Raj Bhawan Public Relations Officer, Malik has directed all the security forces’ commanders to increase surveillance. He has also asked the district and divisional civil and police administration to review the security management of all important installations and establishments in the state. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he strongly condemned the “despicable and dastardly” attack. “The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,” he tweeted. “The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly.” He added that he spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh regarding the situation. Several other political leaders, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, condemned the attack. “Terrible news coming from the valley,” Abdullah, who is also the chief of the National Conference, tweeted. “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. My prayers for the injured and condolences to the families of the bereaved.” The Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet: “No words are enough to condemn the gruesome terror attack. How many more lives will be snuffed out before this madness ends?”

Some of the bodies were so badly blown up that officials feel it may take some time to identity them, PTI reported. The convoy was bringing the troopers back from leave to rejoin active service. It was unclear whether the van containing the explosives was driven into the convoy or whether it was detonated when the buses were adjacent. "It was a powerful explosion. The explosive was car-borne," CRPF spokesman Sanjay Kumar said. Photos showed the blackened, mangled remains of at least one vehicle littered across the highway. Reports said that there were 350 kilos of explosives used.

The US ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, tweeted that Washington "strongly condemns today´s terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims". The India´s foreign ministry, in a statement late Thursday, blamed Pakistan. "This heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed proscribed by the United Nations and other countries," the foreign office said.