44 CRPF jawans killed, 70 injured in Pulwama terror attack in J&K

New Delhi: In the deadliest terror attack in restive Jammu and Kashmir ever, at least 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and more than a dozen others injured on Thursday when a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist rammed an explosives-laden SUV into their bus in Pulwama district.

At least 20 more were injured in the attack in the Awantipora area of Pulwama district. Terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, which Indian authorities say is backed by Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack that took place in Lethpora, about 30 km from Srinagar. While the police put the official death toll at 33, security officials in Srinagar and New Delhi said at least 44 people had died.

Jaish said the suicide bombing was carried out by a local militant whom it identified as Adil Ahmad Dar of Pulwama.He joined the Jaish in 2018, PTI cited unnamed officials as saying. The Jaish claimed in a statement that the vehicle was carrying 350 kg of explosives, which Indian authorities did not confirm.

“Attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama is despicable. I strongly condemn this dastardly attack,” PM Narendra Modi said in a statement as political parties denounced the attack in unison. “Sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain. The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter: “I’m deeply disturbed by the cowardly attack on a #CRPF convoy in J&K in which many of our brave CRPF men have been martyred and a large number wounded, some critically.” In a tweet, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala charged the Modi government with compromising national security and said terror attacks had taken place unabated under it.

The attack may ratchet up tensions between India and Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik said the fact that Jaish owned up to carrying out the attack indicated that Pakistan may have had a hand in it. Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitender Singh, told television channels that the attack had led to a “war- like” situation.

“This is a bigger attack than Uri. Unlike the Uri attack, a Pakistan-based terror group has claimed responsibility There will be much more pressure on Pakistan, but my hunch is, because a Pakistan-based group has claimed responsibility, New Delhi too, will have to act. The form and shape of the retaliation will be the government’s prerogative,” said General DS Hooda, former Northern Army commander.

The ministry of external affairs, while condemning the “heinous and despicable act perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations and other countries” called for its chief Masood Azhar to be listed as a designated terrorist under the sanctions committee of the UN Security Council.

With nearly 400,000 troops deployed across Jammu and Kashmir, defence experts reiterated that warfare in Kashmir was undergoing a sea change.

“Terrorists in future will rely on indirect attacks or suicide bombers where damage is maximum and casualties among terrorists are minimum. Such tactics have not been used earlier because it very difficult to bring explosives from across and people trained to make IEDs had been killed by forces during 2004-05. Now the expertise has been resurrected and explosives have been brought in. So we need to be extremely cautious,” said Lt. Gen (retd) H.S. Panag, a defence expert.

The damage to the Indian side with the IED blast was far heavier than the casualties from the September 2016 JeM attack on an army brigade headquarters in Uri. Nineteen army personnel were killed in that attack.

In January 2018, an IED explosion by the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir’s Sopore district killed four police personnel, while another IED was defused in January along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway.