Suicide car bomber kills 44 policemen in Kashmir
Published : Thursday, 14 February, 2019 at 11:28 PM Count : 420
A suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian policemen in Kashmir on Thursday, killing 44 of them in the deadliest attack in decades on security forces in the disputed region, an incident likely to raise tensions with neighboring Pakistan.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack on a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force on Jammu and Kashmir’s main highway, local GNS news agency said.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbors both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
The explosion was heard from several miles away, according to witnesses. Mohammad Yunis, a journalist who reached the site minutes later, told Reuters he saw blood and body parts scattered along a 100-metre stretch of the highway.
Television images showed a mangled car amid rubble and snow around the site. Reuters photos showed tens of policemen surveying damaged vehicles and one policeman was seen carrying a plastic cover with guns inside.
“I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
Indian forces have sporadically battled Islamist militants in mountainous Kashmir since an armed revolt in 1989 in which tens of thousands were killed, but car bombings are rare.
India accuses Pakistan of giving material support to the militants. Islamabad says it offers only moral and diplomatic support to Muslim Kashmiris in their struggle for self-determination.
A video circulating on social media on Thursday featured the alleged suicide bomber, and showed a young man holding a gun and threatening more attacks. Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri that killed 20 soldiers.
Tension with Pakistan rose after that incident when New Delhi said the attackers had come from Pakistan to stage the attack. Pakistan denied any involvement.
The attack could put Modi, who faces a general election due by May, under political pressure to act against the militants and Pakistan.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, accused Modi of compromising on security.
“Zero political action & Zero policy to tackle terror has led to an alarming security situation,” Surjewala said in one of a series of tweets.
Kanwal Sibal, a former top diplomat, said a diplomatic response from India would not be enough.
“They will have to do something otherwise I think it will be very difficult for government to absorb this blow and be seen to be doing nothing,” Sibal told Reuters.
The United States’ ambassador to India condemned the attack and offered condolences.
“The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it,” Ambassador Ken Juster said in a tweet.
In a statement carried by GNS news agency, a spokesman for the Jaish-e-Mohammad group said dozens of security force vehicles were destroyed in the attack.
Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of the most powerful militant groups operating in Kashmir, was blamed for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that led to India deploying its military on the border with Pakistan.
On Wednesday, an explosion at a school in Kashmir wounded a dozen students. The cause of the blast remains unclear.
Arun Jaitley, a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, called the attack an act of cowardice and said India would retaliate.
“Terrorists will be given unforgettable lesson for their heinous act,” Jaitley said in a tweet.