Amarnath: Intelligence input had warned of strike on June 25

Crpf

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Intelligence agencies in a meeting on June 25 warned of a plot to target Amarnath pilgrims
  • ‘Terrorists had been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 police officers’
  • The bus attacked was travelling after the 7 pm deadline for movement of pilgrims

CHANDIGARH/SRINAGAR: Monday’s terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims could have been avoided had their bus followed the schedule meant for the movement of yatra vehicles on the national highway (NH) in Jammu & Kashmir where it was struck. Or if the administration had treated with seriousness an intelligence warning about an imminent attack received a fortnight ago with seriousness and prohibited pilgrim buses after sun-down.

At a state multi-agency coordination (SMAC) meeting among officials of the intelligence bureau, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and J&K police in Chandigarh on June 25, the agencies had been warned of a terrorist strike on pilgrims. “Intelligence input received from Anantnag SSP reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 yatris and about 100 police officers. The attack may be in the form of standoff fire on (a) Yatra convoy which they believe will result in flaring of communal tension throughout the nation,” the alert stated. “The nature of the input needs corroboration at this stage but the possibility of a sensational attack can’t be ruled out. All the officials deployed on the ground need to be directed to remain alerted and maintain utmost vigil. All out efforts need to be undertaken to nab the terrorists planning such attempts of violence,” it said.

The alert was revealed in a note by inspector general (Kashmir zone) Munir Khan and discussed with investigators from Haryana, Punjab, J&K and Himachal Pradesh, states which send the maximum number of pilgrims to Amarnath. In the attack on Monday, seven pilgrims were killed as terrorists opened fire on a bus carrying 60 Amarnath pilgrims near Batengoo in Anantnag district. The pilgrims had visited the shrine two days ago and started for Jammu on Monday evening, an official said.

 Official sources said the Vaishno Devi-bound private tourist bus (GJ09Z 9976) began its journey from Srinagar around 4.40pm. The distance from Srinagar to Vaishno Devi in Jammu is over 250 kilometres, and usually, takes five to six hours to cover. Passengers said the driver of the bus discovered a puncture at Sangam, some 50km from Srinagar, forcing him to stop the vehicle midway to replace the tyre. Security forces cover the NH from 4 am to 7 pm, the window fixed for Amarnath yatra buses. The flat tyre delayed the journey by one hour and left it vulnerable to the security risk of travelling on the highway after 7 pm.

 CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told reporters that the pilgrims had, against advice, not registered themselves with the Amarnath shrine board, and were not part of the Yatra convoy that is escorted by security forces to and from Amarnath daily. “They also violated the 7 pm curfew on the movement of yatris,” he said.

Besides, security escorts are provided only to government State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) buses meant for the pilgrimage. The Gujarat bus was a private tour bus, and therefore playing on the highway like any other private vehicle. A police officer told TOI, “In reality, almost 90% of the yatra trips involve private players. Only those who cannot afford private buses take government transport and avail of the security. Most people hire SUVs or tourist buses and travel at their own convenience.
“The Amarnath yatra is generally a part of overall tourism to J&K. Since the government hasn’t issued any advisory against travelling at night, tourists travel at their own convenience.”

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