At least 36 Indian troops were killed in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district yesterday when a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the bus they were travelling in, one of the worst terror strikes in the state in recent years, officials said.
More than 2,500 personnel from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), many of them returning from leave to rejoin duty in the Valley, were travelling in the convoy of 78 vehicles when they were ambushed on the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Latoomode in Awantipora.
Police said the terrorist driving a suicide vehicle was Adil Ahmad from Kakapora in Pulwama who joined the JeM in 2018. The casualties are likely to go up.
Over 20 troops were injured in the terror attack, which reduced the bus to a mangled heap of iron. Several other buses were damaged in the attack. Body parts could be seen strewn around the area.
"It was a large convoy and about 2,500 personnel were travelling in multiple vehicles. Some shots were also fired at the convoy," CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told PTI.
The convoy started from Jammu around 3:30 am and was supposed to reach Srinagar before sunset, officials said.
The number of personnel travelling back to the Valley was high as there was no movement on the highway for the last two to three days because of bad weather and other administrative reasons, they said.
Usually, about 1,000 personnel are part of a convoy but this time it was a total of 2,547 personnel. A road opening party was deployed and the convoy had armoured counter-terror vehicles, officials said.
Forensic and bomb analysis teams are on the spot. The bus that was the focus of the attack belongs to the 76th battalion of the force and had 39 personnel on board, officials said.
CRPF inspector general (Operations) in the Kashmir Valley Zulfiqar Hasan described it as a "vehicle-bound attack" and said Jammu and Kashmir Police has taken up the investigation.
Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Yesterday's attack was the deadliest on Indian forces in its part of Kashmir since September 2016 when 19 soldiers were killed in a brazen pre-dawn raid by militants on the Uri army camp.
India blamed militants in Pakistan for that attack, the biggest in 14 years, and responded by carrying out strikes across the heavily-militarised Line of Control, the de-facto border dividing the nuclear-armed nations.
Indian officials said troops conducted the "surgical strikes" several kilometres (miles) inside the Pakistan-controlled side of the disputed territory to prevent attacks being planned on major Indian cities.
The strikes are a source of national pride for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and were the subject of a rousing recent Bollywood film, "Uri: The Surgical Strike".
India has an estimated 500,000 soldiers in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947, reported AFP.
Rebel groups have been fighting for an independent Kashmir, or a merger with Pakistan, since 1989.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of fuelling the insurgency that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead.