Amarnath Yatra Attack: What We Know and The Unanswered Questions
At 8:20 pm on 10 July, a group of heavily armed militants opened fire on a bus ferrying Amarnath yatra pilgrims in Anantnag. Seven people were killed and 14 others injured in what is being called the worst terror attack on the Amarnath Yatra in the last 15 years.
The fact that the attack took place despite specific intelligence inputs and heavy security deployment in the region raises several questions.
Here’s what we know about the attack and what remains to be answered.
How it Happened
What we know: A bus carrying 56 Amarnath pilgrims was returning after darshan and was making its way from the Baltal base camp to Mir Bazar when it came under heavy fire from a group of militants. Of the slain pilgrims, five were from Gujarat and two from Maharashtra.
The Jammu and Kashmir police has said the attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba and has named Pakistani militant Ismail as the mastermind behind the attack.
What we don’t know is whether the bus ferrying Amarnath Yatris was the main target.
Initial reports suggested that the bus was specifically targeted. However, it became clear that the initial target was a police bunker near Batengoo, as reported by The Times of India. The CRPF said militants first attacked the joint post of the Special Task Force (STF), Special Operation Group (SOG) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at 8:15 pm at Khannabal and fled. There weren’t any casualties or injuries reported in this encounter.
Shortly after, the militants attacked the bus carrying the pilgrims, killing seven and injuring 14. The terrorists then fled towards Arwanj, where they fired at a post. No casualties or injuries were reported.
This report by The Times of India says the attack on the bus came after the firing on the police post.
However, a senior J&K police official told The Quint’s Jehangir Ali that the pilgrims were caught in the crossfire.
Why Did the Bus Stop?
What we know: A survivor of the attack, Yogesh Prajapati, told India Today that the bus broke down after a tyre puncture forced it to halt for over two hours.
Security cover in the area is only provided till 7pm, after which buses are not allowed to ply. According to The Quint’s ground report, the breakdown meant that the passengers had to forego the security cover which is provided for pilgrims from Baltal base camp.
What we don’t know is why the bus was left without security cover if it had broken down.
Was the Bus Registered?
What we know: Immediately after the attack, the CRPF issued a statement, claiming that the bus – bearing Gujarat registration number GJ09Z 9976 – was not a part of the escorted Yatra convoy. The bus was not registered with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the CRPF said.
CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told The Indian Express:
What we don’t know is how an unregistered bus managed to ply a route where an additional 25,000 troops had been deployed for the yatra.
The unprecedented security cover was put in place as the yatra clashed with the first death anniversary of slain Hizbul chief Burhan Wani. A satellite tracking system, bullet-proof bunkers, dog squads and CCTV cameras were also put in place.
Vehicles registered for the Amarnath Yatra are allowed to move only if escorted by security convoys. This makes the positioning of the bus at the time of the attack extremely dubious.
Was Intelligence Input About the Attack Ignored?
What we know: In a letter to security forces two days before the start of the Amarnath Yatra, Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Muneer Khan, had warned that terrorists were planning a sensational attack on Amarnath pilgrims, Hindustan Times reported.
What we don’t know is whether this input was ignored by the security forces. If it was, who will be held responsible?
Who Owned the Bus?
What we know: According to The Indian Express, the bus is registered in the name of a Sanjay Patel of Umiya Travels, but was sold to Jawahar Desai of Om Travels located in Valsad, Gujarat. According to Patel, the payment for the transaction had not been settled, which is why the bus ownership could not be changed on paper.
“The permit for the tour (from 2-23 July) was procured by me since I still own the bus, but the tour was organised by Jawaharbhai and his son Harsh,” Patel said.
What we don’t know is whether Patel’s claims have been verified by the security agencies.