Nine dead as militants open fire on bus full of Hindu pilgrims in northern India

Nine dead as militants open fire on bus full of Hindu pilgrims in northern India

At least nine Hindu pilgrims were killed in a suspected militant attack in India’s Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday evening, barely an hour before Narendra Modi took his oath as prime minister for a third consecutive term.

Suspected militants fired on a bus carrying the pilgrims to the temple of Vaishno Devi in the Himalayas, causing the driver to lose control and veer off into a deep gorge in Reasi district, police said.

The temple is one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in the country.

“At about 6.10pm in Pouni area of Reasi, bordering Rajouri district, a bus carrying yatris (pilgrims) from Shiv Khori to Katra was targeted apparently by terrorists using firearms,” police said in a Facebook post.

“The driver was hit and lost control, resulting in the bus sliding into the nearby gorge.”

Thirty three passengers suffered injuries, including gunshot wounds. Most of them are from the northern Uttar Pradesh state, The Indian Express reported.

Suspected militants were hiding in the forested hills overlooking the road and fired indiscriminately at the bus, Mohita Sharma, district police chief of Reasi, said.

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest on civilians in the region in seven years.

At least eight people were killed when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims was caught in crossfire between local police and militants in July 2017.

Jammu and Kashmir, the Himalayan region contentiously claimed by India and Pakistan, has been roiled by violence since 1989, when members of the majority Muslim population picked up arms against Indian rule and invited a severe military crackdown.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the violence in the past three decades and thousands have been subjected to ”enforced disappearce”.

The attack in Reasi occurred about an hour before Narendra Modi and his new council of ministers took oath in New Delhi.

In 2019, Mr Modi’s government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of a measure of autonomy granted by the Indian constitution, claiming that the move would, among other things, put an end to the region’s militancy and the movement for independence.

It insists the decision has been a success but the situation on the ground remains tense, with sporadic gunfights erupting between militants and the Indian armed forces.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called the attack a “shameful incident” and “the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir”.