Five Indian soldiers killed in grenade ambush by ‘unidentified terrorists’ in Kashmir

Five Indian soldiers killed in grenade ambush by ‘unidentified terrorists’ in Kashmir

Five Indian army soldiers were killed in Jammu and Kashmir after an army vehicle was attacked and fired upon by alleged terrorists, authorities said.

In a statement, the army’s Northern Command said the vehicle the soldiers were traveling in was fired upon by “unidentified terrorists” who “took advantage of heavy rain and low visibility in the area,” reported the Indian Express newspaper.

The incident took place around 3 pm on Thursday in Poonch district when the army vehicle was moving between Bhimber Gali and Poonch in the Rajouri sector.

The army said the five soldiers belonged to the Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for counter terror operations in the region.

“The vehicle caught fire, due to likely use of grenades by terrorists,” the statement said.

Earlier on Thursday, a Jammu-based defence ministry spokesperson had said the soldiers were killed after their vehicle caught fire, reported Press Trust of India.

It was only later that the army statement announced it was a terror attack.

“Another seriously injured soldier was evacuated immediately to the Army Hospital at Rajouri and is under treatment,” the army said. “Operations are in progress to locate the perpetrators. Further details are being ascertained.”

On Friday, the army identified the deceased soldiers as Mandeep Singh, Debashish Baswal, Kulwant Singh, Harkrishan Singh and Sewak Singh.

Officials said search operations had been launched on Friday in the dense forests of the Bata-Doriya area.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, official defence sources told news agency ANI that a group of 6-7 terrorists are believed to be operating in two groups in the area where Thursday’s attack took place and were responsible for the attack.

The terrorists are suspected to be from Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and are from Pakistan, according to the sources.

The area has been cordoned off while drones and sniffer dogs are being used to look for suspects hiding in the area.

A high alert has also been sounded in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch amid close vigil along the Line of Control, a military frontline that serves as the de facto border between the Indian and Pakistan controlled parts of Kashmir.

A team of the federal National Investigation Agency (NIA) – India’s primary investigative agency for counter terrorism – also visited the area on Friday.

India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh expressed anguish after the attack.

“Anguished by the tragedy in Poonch District (J&K), where the Indian Army has lost its brave soldiers after a truck caught fire. In this tragic hour, my thoughts are with the bereaved families,” he said.

The attack comes just weeks ahead of a G20 meeting in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar.

The G20 Tourism Working Group meeting will be held in Srinagar on 22-24 May.

The meeting will be the first major international event to be held in Jammu and Kashmir ever since it became a federal territory with the abrogation of Article 370 – that had bestowed the region with a special status.

The abrogation of the Himalayan region’s statehood has been opposed by Pakistan.

While both the countries routinely accuse each other of targeting the other, ties between the two rival nuclear neighbours have virtually been in the cold storage ever since the region’s special status was revoked.

Another flashpoint of violence came in February that year that culminated in Pakistan shooting down an Indian fighter jet and capturing its pilot.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Pakistan said its foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will visit India next month.

Mr Bhutto Zardari is expected to lead the Pakistani delegation for a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) scheduled to be held on May 4-5 in the tourist state of Goa.

He said in a statement that his participation should not viewed in terms of bilateral relations, reported news channel NDTV .

“We are committed to the SCO charter and this visit should not be seen as a bilateral one but in the context of the SCO,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.

Protests were also held on Thursday evening by hardline Hindu nationalist groups, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, in Jammu city in which anti-Pakistan slogans were raised.

On Friday morning, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers in Rajouri city also held similar protests.

Thursday’s attack came 18 months after terrorists killed nine soldiers in the region’s Bhata Durian and Chamrel forests in October 2021, reported the Indian Express newspaper.