J-K bus terror attack: Massive combing operation underway; LG reviews security situation

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Jammu, Jun 10 (PTI) A massive manhunt is underway for three foreign terrorists, possibly of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the deadly attack on pilgrims in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi that resulted in the loss of nine lives, including a two-year-old, officials said on Monday.

Lt Governor Manoj Sinha visited the injured in Jammu and Reasi hospitals and chaired a high-level meeting to review the security situation.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, Udhampur-Reasi Range, Rayees Mohammad Bhat said they have got some leads as 11 teams of police, army and CRPF are jointly working on two different axes to neutralise the fleeing terrorists.

Based on the statements recorded by those injured in the attack, the officials said they have not ruled out the possibility of a fourth person being present at the spot who acted as a lookout for the three terrorists.

Nine people were killed and 41 injured as the terrorists opened fire at the 53-seater bus, which was on its way from the Shiv Khori temple to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, causing it to veer off the road and fall into a deep gorge near the Teryath village of the Poni area of Reasi on Sunday evening.

The bus was ferrying pilgrims from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Following the attack, a joint operation was launched involving the police, the Army, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and central intelligence agencies.

Survivors of the attack are recording their statements as part of the ongoing probe into the attack, while a thorough combing operation is underway to track down the perpetrators, the officials said, adding several persons were detained for questioning.

The Resistance Front (TRF), a shadow group of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba terror outfit, initially claimed responsibility for the attack but retracted its statement later.

Among those killed in the attack are two-year-old Titu Sawhney and his mother Pooja from Rajasthan. They were among four people from the state who lost their lives in the attack.

Three of the deceased were from Uttar Pradesh. The driver and the conductor of the bus, both from Reasi, were also among the victims.

The officials said five of the nine deceased had gunshot wounds.

They added that 41 people were injured in the attack and 10 of them had bullet injuries. Some of those injured were undergoing treatment in hospitals across Jammu and Reasi districts.

Security forces suspect the terrorists are hiding in the mountainous terrains of Rajouri and Reasi, and have intensified combing operations in the region.

"Operation is continuing for the second day and we are working on various inputs. Multiple teams have been formed to work on two different axes while the investigation part is also continuing simultaneously,” the DIG, who is leading the operation, told PTI.

Asked about the detention of several persons for questioning, he replied that saying anything on this matter would be premature but “we have got some leads and we are following those leads to track down the fleeing terrorists”.

Admitting that the area poses a challenge for the security forces given the dense forest, lack of water sources, threat of forest fires, steep slopes and crevices that work as a natural hideout, the officer said that search parties are moving cautiously to avoid any casualty in case of contact with the terrorists.

Talking to reporters at the scene late this evening, the officer said 11 teams have fanned out in coordination with the Army and CRPF and a joint effort is on to neutralise the terrorists.

Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha condemned the attack, calling it a part of a malicious scheme to disrupt peace in the region.

Expressing solidarity with the affected families, the administration has approved ex gratia payments of Rs 10 lakh for the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Amit Shah have been briefed on the situation, with assurances that those responsible for the attack will face justice, Sinha said.

"The attack is a despicable attempt to instigate turmoil in Jammu, but we are resolute in our commitment to safeguard the region," Sinha said during a visit to the injured at the Government Medical College. He also visited Narayana Hospital in Reasi.

The Lt Governor also held a high-level security review meeting here later in the day.

"Chaired a security review meeting with the officials of J&K Police and Civil Administration. I assure the people that those behind the attack on pilgrims in Reasi and those aiding and abetting them will be punished," the Lt Governor wore on X.

In a related development, the separatist amalgam Hurriyat Conference condemned the terror attack and said it "has and will always condemn all forms of violence against humanity. The loss of precious human lives is deeply disturbing".

Anti-Pakistan protests broke out across the Jammu region, including Katra, Doda town and Kathua district, calling for increased security measures to prevent such incidents.

Accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, the protesters demanded action against the neighbouring country. PTI COR/TAS/AB AKV SKL RT

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