44 Indian security personnel killed in held Kashmir attack

Updated February 15, 2019

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Indian security forces inspect the remains of a vehicle following an attack on a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force convoy near Awantipur town in the Lethpora area of held Kashmir about 20km south of Srinagar on Thursday.—AFP
Indian security forces inspect the remains of a vehicle following an attack on a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force convoy near Awantipur town in the Lethpora area of held Kashmir about 20km south of Srinagar on Thursday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Over 40 personnel of India’s paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in a fedayeen-style strike in India-held Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, reports said.

Reuters said 44 men were killed as a jeep with 350kg of explosives rammed a bus in a large security convoy at Pulwama in the disputed Himalayan region.

Indian reports claimed that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group had claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst in decades.

Indian minister says New Delhi will retaliate; FO rejects insinuation that seeks to link the incident with Pakistan

NDTV said 40 men were injured.

Calling the attack “despicable and dastardly”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “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.”

The attack significantly comes ahead of the visit to Pakistan and India of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, apparently putting the focus on an issue that the visitor might have been keen to avoid discussing openly.

Some 2,500 soldiers were in different buses on a sanitised and heavily protected highway when the blast took place at Awantipora, around 20km from Srinagar.

Officials told NDTV that an unusually high number of personnel were on the move at the same time because the Srinagar-Jammu highway had been shut for the past two days because of bad weather.

The convoy reportedly left Jammu at about 3.30am on Thursday morning. The alleged suicide attacker, driving toward the convoy from the opposite direction, rammed a bus with personnel.

The massive blast left human remains and wreckage scattered on a 100-metre stretch of the highway. The bus that was targeted was reduced to mangled metal. Several other vehicles in the convoy were also destroyed.

Indian reports said that JeM put out a video and photos of an armed man it claimed was the suicide attacker — Adil Ahmad Dar or Waqas Commando from Kakapora in Pulwama. He joined the group last year.

Bullet marks on the bus indicated that more men might have been hiding and might have fired at the convoy, NDTV said.

“It’s a terror incident; we are looking into what caused it. We suspect it was a vehicle-bound attack,” a top CRPF officer told reporters.

Asked how the attackers could carry out the attack on such a heavily-guarded highway, the CRPF said: “It is a matter of investigation.”

Reports described it as the biggest attack in the disputed region since the 2001 attack in which three alleged militants attacked the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly in Srinagar, using a vehicle loaded with explosives. Thirty-eight people were killed.

Reuters said the incident was likely to raise tensions between India and Pakistan.

The last major attack in held Kashmir was in 2016 when militants reportedly raided an Indian army camp in Uri that killed 20 soldiers.

Tension with Pakistan rose after that incident when New Delhi alleged the attackers had come from Pakistan to stage the attack. Pakistan denied any involvement.

Kanwal Sibal, a former top diplomat, said a diplomatic response from India would not be enough. “They will have to do something, otherwise I think it will be very difficult for government to absorb this blow and be seen to be doing nothing,” he said.

The United States ambassador to India condemned the attack and offered condolences. “The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it,” Ambassador Ken Juster said in a tweet.

Arun Jaitley, a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, called the attack “an act of cowardice” and said India would retaliate.

“Terrorists will be given unforgettable lesson for their heinous act,” he said in a tweet.

According to AFP, India’s foreign ministry said about the attack: “This heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammad...”

“India is firmly and resolutely committed to take all necessary measures to safeguard national security,” the statement issued added.

Pakistan voices concern

Pakistan termed the attack a matter of grave concern, adds APP.

The Foreign Office spokesperson in a statement issued in Islamabad strongly rejected any insinuation that sought to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations.

“We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world,” the FO spokesperson said.

“We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” the spokesperson remarked.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2019