Srinagar, Feb 15:
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.
More than 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, many of them returning from leave to rejoin duty in the Valley, were travelling in the convoy of 78 vehicles when they were ambushed on the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Latoomode in Awantipora in south Kashmir around 3.15 pm.
The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack that took place about 20 km from Srinagar, officials said.
Police identified the suicide bomber as Adil Ahmed, who officials said joined the Jaish in 2018.
He was driving a vehicle packed with over 100 kg of explosives on the wrong side of the road and hit the bus, in which 39-44 personnel were travelling, head-on, an official at the spot said.
“There are no survivors from the bus,” he said, adding that they were yet to ascertain exactly how many people were on the bus.
JeM claimed the terrorist drove the SUV carrying 350 kg of explosives. However, army and other security agencies disputed the claim and said it was a mere propaganda.
The powerful explosion, which reduced the bus to a mangled heap of iron, was heard many kilometres away, including in some parts of Srinagar adjoining Pulwama district.
Body parts could be seen strewn around the area.
Officials said 42 CRPF personnel have lost their lives and some others are critical. They refused to give an exact number for those injured.
“The bodies are dismembered and mutilated making it difficult for doctors to give the exact number of casualties,” a senior security establishment official told PTI in Delhi.
The bus that was the focus of the attack belongs to the 76th battalion of the force.
“It was a large convoy and about 2,500 personnel were travelling in multiple vehicles. Some shots were also fired at the convoy,” CRPF DG R R Bhatnagar said.
The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet Friday morning to discuss the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir against the backdrop of the attack, sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and top officials after the attack, termed it despicable and asserted that the sacrifices of security personnel will not go in vain.
In a statement, Singh said the government is determined to foil the designs of those who want to disrupt peace through such a terror attack “sponsored and sheltered by Pakistan”.
“Jaish-e-Mohammed has carried out this terror attack. We assure the country that we will undertake whatever it takes to avenge this,” he said.