At least six Amarnath pilgrims were killed and 12 others injured, four of them critically, when a bus they were traveling in was caught in crossfire between militants and government forces in Khanabal area of Anantnag on Monday evening, police said.
A police official said the bus bearing registration number GJ09Z 9976 was on way to Jammu from Baltal “and was not a part of the convoy that came under attack
“They were not registered as yatris with Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and had visited cave shrine on their own,” the official said, adding: “Since they were not registered yatris, they were not escorted by the security. In case of registered yatris, fool-proof security arrangements are put in place.”
The official said the bus driver had violated rules of the pilgrimage which state that no yatra vehicle should be on the Srinagar-Jammu highway after 7 pm as the security cover is withdrawn after that.
Kashmir range inspector general of police Muneer Khan said the attack was not aimed at yatris but government forces.
Official sources said soon after the attack, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti along with top officials rushed to the spot to assess the situation.
In a statement later, a police spokesman said: “Militants initially attacked a police BP (bulletproof) bunker at Botengoo. The fire was retaliated. There was no report of injuries. Thereafter, the militants fired on a police ‘naka’ near Khanabal. The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets in which about 18 tourists were injured. Among them six person died while rest are being treated. The bus was on way to Jammu from Baltal and was not part of the convoy.”
“The four-critically injured persons were referred to Army’s base hospital in Srinagar. Eight of the injured have bullet injuries while rest have sustained minor injuries due to broken windowpanes,” doctors at district hospital Anantnag said. However, unconfirmed reports said one more pilgrim succumbed to his injuries in the hospital late in the evening.
“We were returning via Baltal route after paying obeisance at cave shrine when the attack took place,” one of the injured persons, Prem Bhai Gopal said.