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.
An Army person stands guard outside the CRPF training camp during the second day of an encounter with fidayeen attackers, at Lethpora in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on Monday.
A timeline of major attacks on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir
“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.
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.