SRINAGAR: At least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a deep gorge after a suspected attack in the held territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police said.

News of the attack came as Narendra Modi took oath as prime minister for a record-equalling third term and drew criticism from the main opposition Congress party.

“This shameful incident is the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on X.

“Militants ambushed the bus and fired at it indiscriminately. The bus fell into a gorge, leading to the death of 9 pilgrims, and 23 are injured,” said Mohita Sharma, district police chief of Reasi.

The last major attack on Hindu pilgrims in the occupied region happened in 2017 when a bus was targeted, killing eight people.

Authorities claim the driver lost control of the bus after it came under attack by ‘militants’

Sunday’s attack comes a day after police chief RR Swain said the number of local fighters in the territory was dropping but 70-80 ‘foreigners’ remained active.

The injured have been moved to nearby hospitals and a search for the attackers has been launched, police said in a statement. A state official earlier said at least 10 pilgrims were feared dead.“Initial reports suggest that militants were waiting there in an ambush and they fired on the bus,” police officer Sharma said.

“The driver lost control and fell into the deep gorge. Nine people died and 23 were injured.” The crash happened near Reasi town, in the south of the occupied territory, as the bus was returning from a popular Hindu shrine in the area.

Opposition Congress party president Mallikarjun Kharge condemned the “gruesome terror attack” in a post on social media platform X.

Modi’s “chest-thumping propaganda of bringing peace and normalcy… rings hollow”, he said. Five fighters and an Indian air force corporal were killed in clashes since election campaigning began in the territory in April until voting ended this month. Two suspected fighters were also killed in a firefight with soldiers on June 3.

But the vote saw a 58.6 per cent turnout, according to the election commission, a 30-percentage-point jump from the last vote in 2019 and the highest in 35 years.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2024

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