May 2002 News

30 killed in worst ever fidayeen attack, 48 injured

14 May 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Excelsior Correspondent

Jammu: Atleast 30 persons including army personnel, their family members and seven passengers of a Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) bus were killed and 48 others were injured in the worst ever attack by three ‘fidayeens’ (suicide squads) inside the army quarters at Kalu- chak, about 10 kms from here on Jammu-Pathankote national highway this morning. All three fidayeens, who were wearing army uniforms and were suspected to be the Pakistanis, were shot dead by the troops sent-in to the spot from Kalu Chak Cantonment. Death toll could go up as condition of many of the injured was stated to be critical in the Military Hospital, Satwari, where they were admitted after the attack. Injured had sustained bullet and splinter injuries and included mostly women and children of army personnel’s families, putting up in the quarters that were targeted by the terrorists. The ‘fidayeen’ didn’t spare even the children, who were asleep in their quarters. A two month child was shot dead in his sleep while another child, who was attending the nature’s call, was gunned down in the bath-room. A 10-year old girl, getting ready for the school, was shot in front of a dressing table. A total of 23 persons including three army jawans two of whom were Havildars and rest their family members (women and children) were killed and 47 others were injured inside the quarters while seven persons were killed and another was injured inside the HRTC bus. Of 48 injured, condition of seven was serious. They were being operated upon in the Military Hospital, Udhampur when the reports last came in. Of seven persons killed in the bus, four belonged to Himachal Pardesh and three others to Jammu region. A man and his daughter from Himachal were among the fatalities. Official sources and witnesses told EXCELSIOR that three terrorists in combat dresses boarded a passenger bus of HRTC bearing registration No. 1032 HR34 that was on way from Manali to Jammu between Samba and Vijaypur at about 0500 hours. All of them were carrying three carry bags with them which contained AK-47 rifles, grenades and explosives devices. The bus driver and passengers, numbering about 40, didn’t doubt the terrorists as they believed them to be the armymen. As soon as the bus crossed Kaluchak bridge, two terrorists went to the rear door and another ultra took position at the second door. One of them lobbed a grenade near driver’s seat while his associate started indiscriminate firing on the bus passengers with his AK-47 rifle. Realising that uniformed men were the terrorists, the passengers started running out of the bus leaving behind their luggage. While most of them managed to escape, seven of them including driver of the bus and two women were killed on spot and another passenger sustained minor injuries. Thereafter, the terrorists moved towards the quarters of army personnel of 196 Field Unit (part of 26 Artillery Brigade of Tiger Division), located just 20 yards short of Kaluchak bridge. As the terrorists fired indiscriminately, a Sentry Naik Raja, who was on guard duty at the family quarters, came into action and retaliated killing one of the fidayeen instantly. Naik Raja was also hit by two bullets and injured critically. It couldn’t be ascertained that whether the Naik survived in the hospital, where he was evacuated, or not. Two other fidayeens jumped a wall of the quarters and entered inside. As there was no presence of armed army personnel in the family quarters, the two fidayeens moved from one quarter to another resorting to indiscriminate firing from their AK-47s and throwing grenades and explosive devices. The army soldiers, who were present in their quarters, didn’t have the weapons to retaliate. Many of them fell to the bullets of the terrorists alongwith their families while several others were critically wounded. Witnesses told a visiting EXCELSIOR correspondent that the terrorists directly fired on the children and women, sleeping or working in the houses and those who were running for a cover after hearing the sound of gun shots, killing and injuring them. SSP Jammu Farooq Khan and SP City (South) Jammu Raghubir Singh were the first to reach the spot in civil dresses within 15 minutes of the firing and started co-ordinating the search and rescue operations with army. Senior officers of army including Maj Gen Mohan Pandey and Director General of Police (DGP) A K Suri also reached the spot. Ambulances of army, police and civil hospitals were immediately pressed into services. A child was shot dead in the bath-room, where he was easing himself while a two month infant was gunned down in his sleep on a bed. A woman running of the quarter in the melee was fired from point blank range on her head resulting into her instant death, the sources said, adding a 10 year old girl was killed in front of her dressing table while she was getting ready for school. ''The scene was pathetic. The terrorists were moving from one block to another hitting the innocent and hapless women and children with bullets and splinters of the explosive devices (which they detonated). Loud cries of the women and children calling for help could be heard outside'', a police officer, who was evacuating the injured from one of the block in his Gypsy, said. ''Initially, we were helpless as we had reached the spot without any enforcement'', the officer said, adding two police officers and two army officers Colonel Joshi and Major Koul rushed in to the quarters even without enforcement. In the meantime, army personnel from Kaluchak Cantonment and Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) also rushed to the family quarters and started a hunt to eliminate the two fidayeens. Commandos of army and police were also sent to the spot. Lt A S Pundis was reported to have shot dead one of the fidayeens outside a family quarter at 0830 hours while the second terrorist was eliminated by another army soldier , whose identity couldn’t be gathered immediately, at 0945 hours. . The operation was complete by about 1000 hours, the sources said. They said a total of 23 persons, mostly women and children, were killed inside the quarters while seven others had died in the bus. Fortyeight others were injured and were undergoing treatment in the Military Hospital, Satwari. Condition of seven of them was serious. The sources said the casualties were reported from all the four blocks of the quarters as the terrorists got enough time to move from one block to another in absence of the army guards on duty. The enforcement that was rushed in had to search the terrorists in the quarters before eliminating them. A Defence official said the lack of army guards in the family quarters was due to deployment of army on the borders. ''Most of our troops had moved to the border ending December last year and they are there since then'', he pointed out. ''It’s not a security lapse but a loophole'', he asserted in response to a question by the newsmen outside the venue of shoot-out. Albeit the troops were ready to meet with eventuality of a fidayeen attack in Kaluchak Cantonment, they were not anticipating that the terrorists would make the innocent families of army personnel as their target instead of storming the adjoining Kaluchak Cantonment. ''Had they (the fidayeens) ventured to enter the Cantonment they would have been eliminated within two to three minutes. But, we were caught unawares as the ultras targeted the family quarters of army'', he asserted. Regarding time taken by army in eliminating two ‘fidayeens’, he said the troops wanted to ensure that only the terrorists are hit by their bullets and not the families of their own jawans. ''We had to identify the spot from where the terrorists were firing and it took time as they were quickly moving from one quarter to another'', he added. Two one ton vehicles of army were also damaged in the attack while a number of kerosene oil drums, stored near the quarters, caught fire. Flames were extinguishes by the Fire Brigades. Traffic on Jammu-Pathankote national highway was immediately suspended by the authorities. Some of the vehicles were diverted through Bishnah road. Traffic was restored at 1130 hours after about one and a half hours of the operation. Meanwhile, Himachal Transport Minister Krishan Kapoor, DC Kangra Parbod Saxena and SSP Kangra Sanjay Kundu besides two Works Managers of HRTC —Vijay Singh and Pawan Sharma also reached here to co-ordinate with the civil administration for taking bodies of the killed passengers of Himachal Pardesh to their native places. HRTC Works Managers were told that driver of the bus had been killed while fate of the conductor was not known. The Transport Minister announced Rs one lakh ex gratia for the Himachal citizns killed in the attack and Rs 25,000 for the injured. Meanwhile, Governor Girish Chander Saxena and Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah accompanied by other Ministers visited the Military Hospital, Satwari this evening to inquire the condition of injured. Later, they also visited Kaluchak— the site of fidayeen attack. They were shown dead bodies of three fidayeens. They also visited the army families quarters, where the terrorists had gunned down innocent women and children in the morning. Meanwhile, an all party meeting was called by the Governor at Raj Bhawan this afternoon. The meeting condemned the barbaric killings at Kaluchak.

 

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