August 2002 News

9 pilgrims killed, 30 injured in suicide attack at Base camp

6 August 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Excelsior Team

Srinagar: In the second strike on Amarnath pilgrims within a week, unspecified number of militants in a daring act, attacked the ''heavily guarded'' base camp, gunning down nine devotees and injuring 30 others in their sleep in the wee hours at Nunwan near Pahalgam today. One of the militants identified as Abu Qasim, a Pakistan national, was shot dead by security forces while a combing operation was on to trace his other accomplices in the nearby forests. Dressed in Gujjar attire, Qasim tore into the three-tier security set up and launched the surprise attack at 5.20 am hurling grenades and firing indiscriminately from an AK-47 rifle for a few minutes before he was shot dead by the security persons, officials said. The terrorist first hurled grenades and later, when the pilgrims tried to rush to safety, started firing indiscriminately. At the time of the attack, the yatris were preparing to leave for the onward journey to Chandanwari while others were ready to board vehicles en route to Jammu. Nine pilgrims died, eight of them on the spot. Some of the injured were admitted to a hospital here while others were being treated at Anantnag hospital. Nine injured — seven pilgrims and two civilians — admitted at the bone and joint hospital at Barzulla were out of danger. A senior BSF official told EXCELSIOR that the 26 year old Fidayeen might have come crawling towards the camp as he was wearing knee caps and elbow guards. He said one AK rifle and six empty magazines were recovered from the slain fidayeen who is yet to be identified. The BSF officer said ''Islamic Library Lahore and Ya Allah Madad Kar ( Help me God)'' was written on the rifle recovered from the slain militant. This was the second attack on pilgrims since the month-long pilgrimage started on July 22. In an incident last week a pilgrim from Uttar Pradesh and a taxi driver from Jammu were killed and four other yatris were injured in a blast at Anantnag. Meanwhile, in New Delhi, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met his senior Cabinet colleagues including Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and Finance Minister Jaswant Singh shortly after the attack to take stock of the situation. Asked which terrorist group could be behind the killings, the Deputy Prime Minister said Al Mansuriya, a new militant outfit floated by Lashkar- e-Toiba, was responsible. The outfit had telephoned BBC in Srinagar to claim responsibility, he said. On how many militants could be involved in the strike, Advani said there were different versions but the one suggesting involvement of three to four terrorists was more plausible. ''There could be three to four terrorists as this kind of firing cannot be done by one person,'' he said. Meanwhile, after a brief suspension this morning following militant attack on devotees at a base camp, the Amarnath pilgrimage continued with fresh batches leaving Pahalgam and Sadhu Padaw to trek the arduous route to the cave shrine in south Kashmir. The sadhus who were undettered by the fidayeen attack, said that they will continue to march ahead. Immediately after the attack, authorities reviewed security arrangements and later gave a go ahead for the pilgrimage, officials said. Devotees were allowed to proceed to the shrine from Pahalgam and Sadhu Padaw base camps and a number of others were waiting in queue’s at different places for their onward journey, they said. Those returning after paying obeisance at the 3,880 metre high cave shrine have also started pouring in at Pahalgam. They had earlier been stopped at Chandanwari in view of the attack, the sources said. Security forces allowed pilgrims to the Nunwan base camps after several hours of search there and nearby hillock from where the militant is believed to have come, official sources said. Pilgrims staying there were evacuated to nearby Pahalgam as police and paramilitary forces carried out thorough searches. They said the operation in the nearby hills was continuing to search for more militants. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Governor G C Sexana and Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, besides the Director General of Police A K Suri and top brass of Border security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force visited the camp and also met the injured in the hospital. Recounting the course of events, Jagmohan Singh from Delhi said,''it was dark and we were waiting for our turn to go to the bathroom when suddenly there were three or four blasts followed by firing. As we ran for safety, we could see pilgrims falling down.'' ''We were told last night by the camp officials that yatris have to leave for the onwards journey to the holy cave shrine early in the morning around 0600 hours. There were long queues outside the bath rooms as everyone was getting ready,'' he said. An EXCELSIOR correspondent who visited the camp site saw security forces carrying out search operations in the nearby forests. All the pilgrims were taken to safer places from the camp. ''We do not want to take any chances and hence we have taken the pilgrims out of this camp. They will be again put in these camps once we are sure that no militant is inside,''a spokesman said. Many of the pilgrims were still in shock, being unable to believe that they were alive. When a pilgrim from Uttar Pradesh was told that nine pilgrims had died and 28 others were wounded in the attack, he said it was a miracle. ''We heard a loud explosion and heavy firing was going on for about an hour,'' he said. Miss Savita whose mother Jamna Bhai, admitted in the bone and joint hospital at Barzulla after she received a bullet wound in her leg, said, ''we were outside the lavatory when suddenly there were blasts and firing. My mother fell down on the ground and it took us some minutes to take her to another area which we think was relatively safe.'' She said after the blasts there was an exchange of fire between the militants and security froces for about an hour. ''I am going to complete my yatra,'' she said adding ''if doctors allow my mother to undertake the yatra I will take her too.'' Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, an employee in the Notified Area Committee, recalling the incident, said, ''everyone was crying for help. I removed one injured to a safer place and when I tried to shift another injured I was hit by a bullet. Thereafter, I do not know what happened and who brought me in the Barzulla Hospital.'' One Anil Vikas from Delhi said he was standing with his friend Amandeep, a salesman in Delhi, when he (Amandeep) was hit by a bullet in the lower leg. ''We left Amandeep and went to the security forces who had taken positions on the ground and were firing towards the area from where militant was firing. We requested them for help to remove the injured Amandeep who was crying loudly because of pain but security forces directed us to lie on the ground,'' he said. ''After waiting for a few minutes we decided to risk our lives and removed Amandeep to a safer place with the help of locals. Thereafter, he was shifted to this hospital,'' he said. Two teenage sisters Krishan and Sonali were still in deep shock as their mother Jyanti had received three bullets in the abdoman, leg and hand. The girls were crest fallen following the attack but after doctors assured them that their mother was out of danger they felt relieved. Almost all the pilgrims who had come with the injured said they would complete their yatra at every cost. They said majority of the yatris were getting ready for the onwards journey to the holy cave while others were planning to visit Vaishnodevi Shrine before leaving for home. Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah today declared that the pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave would continue despite Fidayeen attack in which nine pilgrims were killed and 27 injured, and said the destruction of training camps across the border was the only alternative to uproot terror. Condemning the attack on pilgrims, Dr Abdullah said that the yatra would contine as the Government had made elaborate security arrangments for its smooth conduct. He blamed Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Toiba for the attack. He described the incident as ‘most unfortunate’ and hoped the world would wake up to respond to the situation created by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. He said Pakistan would get nothing by engineering such acts and ''Kashmir will always remain a proud part of the nation''. Dr Abdullah advised Pakistan that gun was no solution to problems as all the matters could be resolved bilaterally. He said the terror attack on pilgrims would adversely affect the already sagging tourist activity in the Valley but hoped that the people would unitedly face the challenge to frustrate the ‘nefarious designs of the enemy’. He said the yatra has generated a hope among the people especially those in Pahalgam and whose sustenace largedly depends on tourism. A sizable population in the Valley is dependent on tourism, directly or indirectly, and hovering clouds of terrorism have adversely affected the industry. The Chief Minister said the perpetrators of violence had not even spared those who were in the Valley to perform their religious duties. ''Kashmiris have a glorious ethos and they have always condemned such barbaric acts,'' he said. He said, Kashmir has been a land of sufis and saints that has withstood the test of times. ''The people of the State, particularly in the Valley, are firm believers in a composite culture and have remained in the forefront to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and amity.'' Dr Abdullah conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families and prayed for peace to the departed souls. Earlier, Governor G C Sexana talking to reporters, said that there were apprehension’s about targetting of pilgrims. But how and when nobody knew. He strongly condemned the attack and described it very unfortunate. Mr Sexana and Dr Abdullah, accompanied by the Director General of Police A K Suri and Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Parvez Dewan visited the Sub District Hospital to enquire about the condition of the injured. They interacted with the patients and those attending on them and elicited first hand information about the incident. The perpetrators of violence have not even spared those who were in the Valley to perform their religious duties, the Chief Minister said. ''Kashmiris have always condemned such barbaric acts. The people of the State, particularly in the Valley, are firm believers in composite culture and have remained in the forefront to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and amity,'' he said.


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