In a cowardly attack, terrorists on Monday night killed seven Amarnath pilgrims from Gujarat, including six women, and injured 32 others as they struck at a bus in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district, in the worst attack on the annual pilgrimage since the year 2000. The bus bearing the registration number GJ09Z 9976 was attacked at around 8.20 pm near Khanabal when it was on its way to Jammu, police said.
A CRPF statement said the bus was not part of the official yatra and not registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board.
The terrorists first attacked a bullet-proof bunker of the police at Botengoo, a police official said, adding it was retaliated. There were no injuries in this attack. Thereafter the terrorists fired on a police picket near Khannabal, the police added.
When the police retaliated, the militants fled, firing indiscriminately in which the bus carrying the yatris got it.
Seven of the pilgrims were killed and 32 were injured, the police said. The police and top government sources said the bus driver had violated rules for the pilgrimage, which state that no yatra vehicle should be on the highway after 7 pm as the security cover is withdrawn after that.
The seven pilgrims killed in the attacks are -- Hasuben Ratila Patal (Gujarat), Surekha Ben (Gujarat), Thakur Nimala Ben (Maharashtra), Lakshmiben Patel (Gujarat), Usha Mohanlal Sonkar (Maharashtra), Ratan Zeena Bhai Patel (Gujarat) and Champaben Prajapati (Gujarat).
In the national capital, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval apprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the incident. Union Home and Defence Ministry officials were huddled in a meeting to take stock of the latest situation.
Prime Minister Modi tweeted: "Pained beyond words on the dastardly attack on peaceful Amarnath Yatris in J&K. The attack deserves strongest condemnation from everyone."
Union Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh condemned the attack.
"It is not just an attack on the pilgrims, but an attack on the composite culture of the nation. As far as the Government of India is concerned, we have a policy of zero tolerance against terror, whether it is local or from across the border," he said.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said: "It is an attack on our roots. We will not leave any stone unturned in bringing the perpetrators of this attack to justice."
Senior minister in the Mehbooba Mufti-led government Nayeem Akhtar termed the attack a "dark patch in the history of Kashmir".
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said: "The attack cannot be condemned strongly enough."
He added that such an attack was expected in spite of recent successes against militants by security forces. "The one thing we had all feared this year during the yatra. In spite of recent successes against militants and unprecedented force presence," he tweeted.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad termed it "unfortunate", and added that the militants will have to "pay through their nose". He also spoke to the Chief Minister.
Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also condemned the attack.
The attack took place hours after the Jammu and Kashmir Police claimed to have busted a Lashkar-e-Taiba module with the arrests of two persons, including Sandeep Kumar Sharma alias Adil, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, authorities blocked internet services in the Valley.
On Saturday, the Amarnath yatra was suspended from Jammu side due to law and order situation in the Kashmir Valley which was under curfew in the wake of the death anniversary of militant commander Burhan Wani.