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Reasi Carnage: Security Officials Suspect Foreign Terrorists With New Weapons

"The terrorists have expertise in trigger control and conserving ammunition,” a security source told The Quint.

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Multiple munitions, including armour-piercing weapons, were used to attack the bus carrying Hindu pilgrims back from the Shiv Khori cave shrine in Katra on 9 June, according to senior police sources.

The brutal attack resulted in the killing of at least nine devotees who were returning from the shrine tucked in the mountains of Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir, not too far from the famous Mata Vaishno Devi temple.

Around 42 other passengers who were travelling on the bus were wounded, many of them hit by the bullets. Reasi’s District Magistrate Vishesh Mahajan told media that 18 of the injured civilians are undergoing treatment at Government Medical College in Jammu, while 14 were admitted at Narayana Hospital, Katra, and 10 were lodged at Reasi District Hospital.

At least two of the deceased civilians are children.

Security forces were leading eleven search teams to track the assailants, said Rayees Mohammad Bhat, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Udhampur Reasi Range. “All the forces are operating jointly and a lot of people have been questioned,” he said.

On 11 June, just when the search operations were underway in Reasi, militants in Saida village in neighbouring Kathua district opened fire at civilians in what was the second big attack in 48 hours. Police sources said that one militant was killed on account of swift retaliation by a Special Operations Group (SOG). Additionally, on the same night, militants attacked a party of 4 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in the Chatergala area of Doda — the third attack in the past three days.
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Militants Trying New Weapons

Senior police officials told The Quint that the 9 June attack in Reasi was likely to be the first instance when high-calibre weaponry was used by militants to target civilians or security forces.

“There are reports that terrorists have also used M4 carbines, along with AK 47 rifles,” a senior police official said. “In that case, it becomes the first attack where terrorists have proactively used a US-made weapon. Before this, such weapons were recovered only from the dead bodies of terrorists after they were neutralised.”

The official also said that the last time such a weapon was used against forces in J&K was in 2018 when a Pakistani ranger fired a sniper round at a Border Security Force (BSF) jawan in the Tangdhar area near Line of Control (LoC).

The Reasi attack took place on the same day Narendra Modi took as Prime Minister for a record third term, setting off speculations about whether militants purposely chose the occasion to carry out the brutal killings. Police sources, however, denied the connection, arguing that militant groups are relying less on digital communications, which makes the kind of coordination required to orchestrate an attack such as this time with a big event like a swearing-in ceremony less probable.

Officials said that attackers had sidled behind a tree cover and waited until the bus drove through the link road, before spraying it with bullets. Shot in the forehead, the driver slumped into his seat and lost control of the bus, which veered off the road and plunged into a defile.

In its press release, J&K Police said that the attack took place at 6:10 pm on Sunday evening when the vehicle was on its way back to Katra, where the famous Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine is located.

“The driver was hit and lost control, resulting in the bus sliding into the nearby gorge. With the help of local villagers, police evacuated all the passengers by 8.10 pm. Superintendent of Police (SP), Reasi, supervised the evacuation and dispatched the injured to different hospitals,” the statement read.

Highly Trained Foreign Mercenaries

Another security source told The Quint that the militants responsible for the Reasi attack appear to be well-trained, possibly by Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG). “They are accurate shooters and use minimal ammunition,” the source said.

“In Reasi, they shot the driver in the forehead, followed by controlled, short bursts. They have expertise in trigger control and conserving ammunition.”
A security source to The Quint

This is consistent with the survivors’ account of the attack who described what they felt like a “relentless hail” of bullets pelting down upon the bus even after it plunged into a densely forested gorge.

“The firing did not stop even after the bus fell. I think there were two-to-three terrorists there,” one survivor told the news agency Asian News International (ANI). “My son saw a man firing on our bus from behind.”

This is the second big attack that took place in 2024 in the Jammu region where the militant groups are trying to renew contestations.

Last month, militant groups launched an attack on an Indian Air Force (IAF) motorcade in the Surankote area of the neighbouring Poonch district. The ambush followed the same modus operandi in which armed gunmen prowled on the movement of security forces, taking advantage of dense forest cover before initiating a strike from secure vantage points.

The attack on the IAF party led to five officers being injured, including Corporal Vikky Pahade, a resident of Madhya Pradesh, who eventually succumbed.

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Attacks Pitting Army Against Civilians

On previous occasions, such attacks have resulted in retaliatory actions by security forces leading to civilian killings.

In December last year, the Army was accused of torturing three persons to death in Topa Pir village in the Bufliaz area of Poonch, after militants launched a big ambush on vehicles carrying personnel from the 48 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units through the dense forests. The ambush had led to the deaths of five servicemen.

The Bufliaz episode was the fourth such attack in 2023, underscoring how the theatre of violence was rapidly shifting from Kashmir to the mountainous regions of Jammu that are closer to the LoC.

The shifting nature of militancy was acknowledged recently by J&K Police’s Director General (DG) RR Swain who said that security agencies were more focused on foreign militants such as the ones perpetrating attacks in Jammu, as local recruitment had come down significantly from 150-200 to 20-22 in five years.

Police sources have attributed the back-to-back breakthrough attacks in Jammu to the drying up of intelligence channels pertaining to the movement of militants. “Intelligence gathering has taken a hit,” one senior official explained. “You have to accommodate people and that is not happening at the moment.”
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Diminishing Intelligence Supply Lines

Sources said that widespread arrests of associates of militants, known as Over Ground Workers (OGWs), were constricting the supply of crucial information that could have enabled security agencies to preempt these attacks.

“To add to that, Pakistan has directed the terrorists to avoid relying on old OGWs already indexed by security agencies,” officials told this reporter. “The result is a situation where it is becoming hard to track militancy. Hence, there are attacks like in Reasi.”

They said that the module responsible for the killings in Reasi is the same group that carried out the deadly attack on the IAF convoy last month.

“The Reasi attack has imprints of Habibullah Malik alias Sajid Jutt who is a foreign terrorist from Pakistan,” sources added. “He is married to a Kashmiri woman from Yamrach village in Kulgam.”

(Shakir Mir is an independent journalist. He has also written for The Wire.in, Article 14, Caravan Magazine, Firstpost, The Times of India and more. He tweets at @shakirmir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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