Kathua manhunt: Truck driver, 50 others detained after deadly army ambush

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Jammu, July 10 (PTI) The manhunt for the terrorists responsible for the ambush in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district, which resulted in the tragic death of five army personnel, has led to the detention of a truck driver and 50 others for questioning, officials said on Wednesday.

According to officials, the truck, which was initially close behind the ill-fated army vehicles on the Machedi-Kindli-Malhar mountainous road, slowed down near Badnota village in Lohai Malhar when the terrorists opened fire from two different directions. Five army personnel including a Junior Commissioner Officer, were killed in the ambush on Monday.

Suspicion has been cast on the civilian tipper driver, with authorities investigating whether he intentionally delayed the convoy by requesting a pass on the culvert.

"The role of a civilian tipper, which slowed down the speed of this convoy, has come under investigation as it is perceived that the driver deliberately asked for a pass on the culvert.

"Usually, army vehicles are given preference in these areas but the tipper still asked for a pass which slowed down both vehicles," an official said on condition of anonymity.

A massive search operation, conducted by the army and police, is on amidst heavy rain in dense forests across four districts.

The operation, launched from Kathua, Udhampur, and Bhaderwah, has resulted in the detention of 50 individuals for questioning in connection with the ambush, the officials said.

Efforts are being made to track down and neutralise the terrorists believed to be hiding in the forest, they said.

In a related development, a search operation is underway in the higher reaches of the Doda district following a gunfight between terrorists and security forces.

Army and police personnel are deployed in dense forests in various parts of Udhampur, Samba, Rajouri, and Poonch districts, with fresh searches initiated in several areas on Wednesday morning.

Residents of Badnota village and neighbouring areas have expressed concern over their safety in the aftermath of the ambush, calling for the establishment of village defence groups to combat terrorist threats.

Local residents have urged the government to provide weapons and training to enable them to support security forces in the fight against terrorism.

The search teams, supported by helicopter and UAV surveillance, are using sniffer dogs and metal detectors in dense forest areas. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is assisting police in the probe, while special forces units are conducting surgical operations in specific locations.

"The residents, united in their resolve for peace and security, stand ready to assist security forces in eradicating terrorism from the region," an official said.

The call for empowerment through training and armament underscores the community's determination to safeguard their homeland against such acts of violence, the official said.

"The government should provide weapons and training to us, we are ready to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with our forces against the terrorists," Jagdish Raj, a local, said.

Punkaj, a 20-year-old student, said the terrorist ambush has caused fear among the local populace but "the situation changes altogether when you have weapons in your hands".

"We can swiftly move into the forests and help tackle the threat of terrorism," he said, demanding a special recruitment drive for the local youths of the area.

Shahid Ahmad, who claimed to have moved from the higher reaches to Machedi due to terror threat, said Muslims and Hindus of the area want peace and are ready to assist security forces in wiping out terrorism.

"Our eyes filled with tears at the loss of our soldiers. Such an attack had never happened (here) even during the peak of terrorism over two decades ago," he said, adding that the government should provide weapons and training to them to fight the menace.

Ahmad said innocent villagers, who have moved with their livestocks to the upper reaches, are compelled to provide food to terrorists as they are threatened at gunpoint.

"We are with our forces in the fight against terrorism,” he said. PTI SBL/TAS AB SKL RT