The army chief rushed to Kashmir on Tuesday to review the security in the valley following an audacious terrorist attack on a pilgrims’ bus that was reportedly masterminded by a Pakistan-based militant leader.
Seven pilgrims from Gujarat and Maharashtra were killed and 19 others injured in last night’s attack by terrorists who sprayed the bus with gunfire from all directions.
The victims had earlier visited the Amarnath shrine and were on their way from Srinagar to Jammu.
The bus driver, Salim Sheikh Gafoor, a native of Gujarat, was hailed as a hero for saving the lives of some 50 others in the bus by speeding away through the hail of gunfire with a shattered windshield blocking his view, stopping only after 2 kilometers at a security post.
The attack drew widespread condemnation including by Amnesty International, the United States and across the Indian political spectrum.
“This act of violence has shaken the edifice of Kashmiri ethos and culture,” said Jammu-Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who spent the night in a hospital in Anantnag where the injured were being treated. “This incident is a blot on all Kashmiris and Muslims. We will not keep quiet till we bring the culprits to book,” she said.
Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat rushed to Srinagar this morning where he held a series of meetings, including with Governor N N Vohra and Mehbooba.He also chaired a security review meeting in Srinagar which was attended by top Army officials, Director General of S P Vaid and Chief Secretary B B Vyas, an Army spokesman said.
“The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) condemned the dastardly act of terror against innocent Amarnath pilgrims, and indicated that the security forces will counter this menace with greater resolve,” the spokesman said.
The Army chief exhorted the commanders and troops to keep up the pressure on the terrorists, the spokesman added.
TV channels reported that the attack was masterminded by a Pakistan-based LeT commander Abu Ismail. However, there was no independent confirmation of that.In New Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired another meeting that was attended by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and senior officials of the central police forces.
During the hour-long meeting, Singh took stock of the situation in Kashmir, particularly the two routes to the Amarnath shrine, located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 12,756 feet.
Later, the NSA briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Despite the attack, hundreds of pilgrims continued to journey to Amarnath cave, chanting ‘Bam bam Bhole’.
Meanwhile, bodies of the seven victims were received by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in Surat.
The governments of Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and the Centre announced lakhs of rupees in compensation for the relatives of the deceased as well as the injured.Rupani said he will recommend the driver for a bravery award.
The J&K government and the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) separately announced cash rewards totalling Rs 5 lakh for the driver.
“God gave me strength to save their lives,” said Sheikh. “Terrorists should not be spared. They should be killed as they are killing innocent people.”