In the deadliest terror attack in restive Jammu and Kashmir ever, at least 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and more than a dozen others injured on Thursday when a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist rammed an explosives-laden SUV into their bus in Pulwama district.
The police and witnesses said that a lone suicide attacker detonated a Mahindra Scorpio laden with around “350 kgs” of explosive near a bus at around 3.15 pm as a convoy of 78 CRPF vehicles was travelling down the heavily guarded stretch of the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Lethapora in southern Pulwama district, about 30 kilometres from Srinagar. While the JeM claimed that it used 350 kgs of explosives, the police said that 100 kgs of explosive was used.
The SUV was being driven on the wrong side of the road before it rammed into the CRPF bus coming towards it, police said
Witnesses said that the CRPF bus was blasted open and reduced to ribbons of charred metal, with body parts of the victims were strewn on the highway. Several other vehicles in the convoy as well as nearby shops and buildings also suffered damage due to the massive blast. The CRPF bus which was directly attacked was carrying 39-44 personnel, reports said. The vehicle’s body bore bullet marks, indicating that more terrorists may have been hiding and may have fired at the convoy, officials said.
There were about 2,500 CRPF personnel on board the 78 vehicles in the convoy that was on its way from Jammu to Srinagar, officials said.
It was an unusually long convoy as many personnel were being transported at one go because the Srinagar-Jammu highway had been shut for the last two days due to bad weather. The convoy had left Jammu around 3.30 am and was expected to reach Srinagar before sunset.
The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the powerful explosion that could be heard about 10-12 km away, including some parts of Srinagar adjoining the Pulwama district.
The terror outfit also put out a video and photos of an armed man, Adil Ahmad Dar alias Waqas commando from Kakapora, and claimed that he was the suicide attacker. He had joined the group in 2018.
Body parts of Adil, who was driving the explosive-laden vehicle, were also found at the spot, police said.
The scene of the incident is not very far from the Commando Training Centre at Lethpora, which was stormed by JeM terrorists on December 31, 2017, killing five CRPF personnel.
JeM spokesperson Muhammad Hassan, in a statement issued to a local news agency, said that “dozens of forces’ vehicles were destroyed in the attack”.
Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik pointed the needle of suspicion towards Pakistan. “Visibly it seems to be guided from across the border as JeM has claimed responsibility,” he said. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) will probe the attack along with the Jammu and Kashmir police, officials said. This is the first suicide car bomb strike in Kashmir since the 2001 attack on the J&K Assembly that left 38 people dead.
As soon as the explosion took place, people started running for safety. The shopkeepers at Lethpora market, which is less than 300 metres from the scene of the attack, downed their shutters and fled.
The injured were rushed to the Army’s 92-Base hospital in Srinagar’s Badami Bagh Cantonment. Army sources said that the death toll could rise further as the condition of some of the injured CRPF personnel was “critical”.
Condemning the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain.”
In a message, US ambassador Kenneth Juster said, “Strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. The US stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it.”
The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the jihadist group active mainly in Jammu and Kashmir, has carried out several attacks, including the 2001 attack on Parliament in New Delhi, and is also suspected of being responsible for the attack on the Pathankot airbase in 2016. It has been declared a “terrorist group” by the UN, US and India.