At least 37 CRPF personnel were killed on Thursday when a convoy in which they were travelling was attacked by a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) suicide bomber, who rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into one of the convoy’s buses near Awantipora on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
The bombing in Awantipora’s Lethpora area in Pulwama district also left at least eight troops critically injured and was the deadliest attack in terms of casualties in the last three decades of militancy in the State. In a post on Twitter, Home Minister Rajnath Singh blamed the “Pakistan-based, Pakistan-backed” JeM for the “dastardly” attack.
“The exact number of casualties is being ascertained,” a CRPF spokesman said. “Thirty-seven causalities are confirmed. The injured have been shifted to hospitals for treatment.”
However, hospital sources said the toll was likely to rise “because the condition of eight injured jawans was critical.” The injured were shifted to the Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar, an official said.
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that at about 3:15 p.m. a sport utility vehicle (SUV) laden with 300 to 350 kilograms of explosives rammed into a CRPF convoy of about 70 vehicles that was on the way to Srinagar from Jammu, as the highway had opened after a week-long closure due to snowfall.
“One of the vehicles of the convoy was targeted,” said the CRPF’s Inspector-General (Operations) Zulfiqar Hassan. “It inflicted damage on vehicles as well as our men,” he added.
About 2,500 personnel were travelling to the Valley at the time of the attack. Gunshots followed the blast, according to locals. The personnel under attack belonged to 92, 17 and 54 Battalions of the CRPF.
“Preliminary inputs suggest that it was a remote-controlled detonation with a group of militants overseeing the operation,” said a senior police officer, who declined to be identified.
The explosion was so powerful that it was felt in Srinagar, about 30 km away away. Two vehicles, including the one carrying the bomber, were blown into smithereens. Eyewitnesses said only the charred skeletal frames of the vehicles hit by the blast were seen on the roadside, while several buses in the convoy sustained severe damage. The attack raises questions over security on the national highway, which is patrolled by the local police, CRPF and Army on a daily basis.
Immediately after the attack, the JeM claimed responsibility and released a picture of its local operative who had carried out the attack. He was identified as Adil Ahmad Dar alias ‘Waqas Commando’, a resident of Pulwama’s Kakapora. According to the police, Dar joined the outfit in 2018 and was a Class 10 dropout.
In 2001, 38 people were killed when a three-member JeM squad blew up a car outside J&K Assembly.
The toll in Thursday’s attack exceeded the fatalities inflicted by militants in Uri, in 2016, when 19 Armymen were killed near the LoC.
PM: sacrifices of our security personnel will not go in vain
Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the attack despicable and asserted that the sacrifices of security personnel would not go in vain.
He also spoke with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and other top officials in the wake of the attack.
“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,” he tweeted.
He said the entire nation stood shoulder to shoulder with the families of those killed. He also wished speedy recovery of those injured.
“Spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh Ji and other top officials regarding the situation in the wake of the attack in Pulwama,” he said.
The Congress conveyed its condolences to the family of the slain jawans through its official Twitter handle. "We are deeply saddened and angered by the terrorist attack that took the lives of our CRPF jawans in Pulwama. We strongly condemn this violence and stand with the martyrs. Our thoughts & prayers are with their friends and families in this time of grief," it said.
BJP president Amit Shah termed the terror attack an “act of cowardice” and asserted that security forces would defeat those involved in terrorist activities.
“Pained beyond words by the terror attack on our soldiers in Pulwama (J&K). It is an act of cowardice. My deepest condolences are with the families of our soldiers who have lost their lives. Our forces will remain firm against such acts of terror and defeat them,” he said in a tweet.
Foreign leaders, dignitaries express condolences
Leaders and dignitaries from other countries have also responded to the attack.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranik Wickremesinghe expressed his condolences to PM Modi and to "the families of police officers who lost their lives".
"I strongly condemn the brutal terrorist attack in Kashmir's Pulwama district — the worst ever terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989," he tweeted.
The Russian embassy released a statement condemning the attack.
"The Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of India condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, which claimed precious lives of more than 40 CRPF personnel and left numerous people injured.
"We denounce terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reiterate the need to combat these inhuman acts with decisive and collective response without any double standards.
"May we express sincere condolences to the grieving families of the deceased and wish a speedy recovery to those injured," the statement read.
U.S. Ambassador to India Ken Juster tweeted: "The U.S. Mission in India strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it."
The French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian , also a released a statement condemning the attack. "I most firmly condemn the heinous attack just perpetrated in India. My thoughts go out to the families of the fallen soldiers and my deepest solidarity to the Indian government and people. France has always been and always will be by India’s side in the fight against terrorism in all its forms.
"I call on every State to fight effectively against terrorist networks and their financing channels and to prevent cross-border movements of terrorist groups, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has claimed responsibility for this attack," the statement said.
(With inputs from PTI )