Militants strike on Amarnath pilgrimage
30 July 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Srinagar: In their first strike on Amarnath pilgrims this year, suspected militants have killed two persons and left five others wounded, when a cab was blown up with a grenade blast in Anantnag township of south Kashmir. The broad daylight strike was carried out amid heavy security arrangements this evening when the Jammu-bound pilgrims were returning after darshan from the holy cave. Sources in south Kashmir told EXCELSIOR that an unidentified person hurled a grenade into a Taxi, bearing registration No: JKT-7536, at Lazbal outskirts of Anantnag town, on Khanabal-Pahalgam road, at 1715 hours this evening. It exploded inside the cab which was returning from Pahalgam with five pilgrims and a driver in it. The pilgrims were on way back to Jammu wherefrom they had hired the cab on July 27. Driver Kuldeep Raj of Rajpura Jammu and two pilgrims on the front seat—30-year-old Ajay Narula and 28-year-old Manoj Agarwal—sustained critical injuries. Raghu Vishst, Abhay Agarwal and Sheel Agarwal, who were in the rear seat, sustained relatively minor injuries. A Kashmiri Muslim passer- by, namely Abdur Rasheed, was also injured. While the injured were being evacuated and rushed to hospital, driver Kuldeep Raj and pilgrim Ajay Narula succumbed to injuries. DIG south Kashmir, Mohammad Amin Anjum, told EXCELSIOR that all the injured were rushed to two Srinagar hospitals though only one of them had grievous injuries. He said that Police and security forces were trying to ascertain the identity and whereabouts of the militants responsible for causing the blast. According to him, all the five victims of the blast were friends, relatives and acquaintances from Bareili town of Uttar Pradesh. Most of the officials maintained that the tragedy occurred due to hurling of a hand grenade into the lonely Taxi. However, a Police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the blast occurred due to detonation of an explosive device fitted with a timer in the bonnet of the vehicle. He suggested that the same must have been planted into the vehicle by militants at Pahalgam. Multi-tier protection rings of Jammu & Kashmir Police, paramilitary forces and Army are on round-the-clock duty to provide the best bossible security cover to the pilgrimage. As many as 30 companies of J&K Police (District Police, J&K Armed Police, Police Telecommunication, Traffic Police and Security Wing) are responsible for handling law and order, surveillance of hotels and Yatra camps, nomal policing, frisking of pilgrims, their luggage and vehicles, anti-sabotage checking and guarding the bridges and culverts on the Yatra route. Several companies of Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been on the Road Observation duty from Jawahar Tunnel to Khanabal while as BSF is responsible for ROP duty from Khanabal to the holy cave. Army has been put on maximum alert and the same is responsible for sanitising the general area, on both sides of the Yatra route, mostly in thick forest covers. After the Qasim Nagar shootout and encounters of security forces in Banihal town last fortnight, maximum possible security bandobust has been put on the job. During the last few years of militancy, guerrillas struck on the pilgrimage four times on Jammu-Srinagar national highway, twice with grenade attacks in Anantnag and twice by indiscriminate firing at Pahalgam. Over two dozen pilgrims and civilians had died in militants’ strike and security forces’ excessive retaliatory firing on a Yatra camp at Pahalgam in 1999. However, this is for the first time that suspected militants have attacked the pilgrims this year. While as 95,000 Hindu devotees have registered themselves for the pilgrimage till date, 61,000 have had darshan at the holy cave during the last 12 days. In all, about 1,20,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the holy cave for their spiritual odyssey this year. Authorities said that inspite of today’s militant strike, the pilgrimage would continue as per the schedule upto August 22 when the same would be concluded. Even as officials maintained that militants had caused the blast to terrorise the pilgrims, no militant outfit had claimed responsibility till late tonight. Normally, in Jammu & Kashmir no group or individual owns up such incidents in which the victims are only unarmed, uninvolved civilians.