The recovery of seven Magnet-attached Improvised Explosive Devices (MIEDs), or sticky bombs, from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Jammu’s Kathua district on Sunday, 29 May, has intensified the security forces’ apprehensions of terror attacks on the Amarnath pilgrimage this year.
Senior Police officials said that a suspicious hexapod was spotted hovering over the International Border in an area falling under the jurisdiction of Rajbagh Police Station of Kathua in the morning on Sunday. Senior Superintendent of Police Kathua, Romesh Kotwal, said that a quick reaction party from Rajbagh Police Station rushed to the spot and got the suspicious drone grounded after firing some gunshots. It crashed at Talli Harriya Chak village.
Seven MIEDs and an equal number of UBGL grenades, along with some electronic data devices, were seized from the drone. Officers said that the drone had been launched from a territory under Pakistan’s control. Before it could reach its destination, sharp shooters of Police grounded it. Officials maintained that as many as 15 drones, carrying arms and ammunition, drugs and cash, had been launched successfully or unsuccessfully from the Pakistan side in the last nearly three years.
The blaring sign that the Pakistani ISI has, through its proxies, decided to target the Yatra is not surprising.
In case the Amarnath Yatra goes ahead smoothly, it will hugely, and correctly boost India’s narrative that Jammu and Kashmir is on the route to unprecedented progress and normality following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. More so as the number of pilgrims taking part in the Amarnath Yatra would be unprecedented in recent years. It is expected that 8 lakh pilgrims would visit the cave-shrine in 2022.
The Yatra was curtailed by two weeks in 2019, and it could not be operated due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2021. Only a limited number of the pilgrims was permitted in 2021.
Besides, the Yatra would also deliver a subtle but powerful message that the Jammu and Kashmir has a shared cultural history, and that the Hindus and Hinduism is an integral part of the region, thus impactfully nullifying Pakistan’s narrative of Muslim majoritarianism as the basis of statehood.
Regarding recent usage of drones by Pakistan, a senior police official said: “Some of them were shot down by us, some fell accidentally and others returned to Pakistan without being able to deliver the payload,” said a senior Police official. He said that much of the terror infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir in the last three years had happened through narrow underground tunnels at the international border (IB) and the LoC in Jammu.
Additional Director General of Police, Jammu Zone, Mukesh Singh, revealed to India Narrative that in all four drones had been grounded — three in Jammu and one in Amritsar area of Punjab — in the last over two years. Different quantities of arms and ammunition, cash and drugs were recovered from the grounded drones.
Well-placed officials in the Jammu and Kashmir Police and security forces said that there were ‘glaring indications’ of the terrorists planning some armed attacks on the Amarnath pilgrimage this year. Sunday’s seizure of a cache of sticky bombs, coupled with some recent incidents, is an indication of the terrorists planning to attack the Yatra. But we have made all pre-emptive plans and we are fully prepared to deal with any challenge, said the officer.
In one of the recent attack claims, a guerrilla organisation has given a clear indication of the terror attacks on the Amarnath pilgrimage. It has reasoned the possible attacks on the fact the government had extended the Yatra from 15 to 50 days while permitting the highest ever number of 8 lakh pilgrims this year.
In the last over 20 years, there has been only one terror attack on the pilgrims in Kashmir. Seven pilgrims were killed and 11 injured in the ambush at Botengo, on the Khannabal outskirts of Anantnag on 10 July 2017. The bus targeted late in the evening was returning from the Yatra base camp of Baltal.
On 7 May 2022, Police and security forces claimed to have averted a possible attack on the pilgrimage when three militants of Hizbul Mujahideen, including the longest surviving Ashraf Khan of Kokernag, were killed in an encounter near Batkoot, Pahalgam.
Sticky bombs have been used at three unexpected spots — two in Jammu and one in Kashmir — in the last three months. According to well-placed sources, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has concluded on the basis of one FSL report that RDX-type explosive material had been used in the blast that wrecked a bus of the Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims near Katra on 12 May. Four pilgrims got burnt to death and 24 others sustained injuries in the blast that took place inside the bus at Nomai while returning to Jammu from Katra.
A terror group, ‘Kashmir Freedom Fighters’, claimed responsibility while releasing a video of the burning bus on 18 May.
Previously, one person was killed 15 others sustained injuries when a low-intensity bomb, believed to be MIED, went off near Tehsil Office, at Salathia Chowk of Udhampur, on 9 March 2022. ‘United Liberation Front’ (ULF) claimed responsibility.
On 6 April 2022, another blast took place in the rear of a tourist bus at the parking place of Tulip Garden in Srinagar. Driver Amjad Ali sustained injuries. ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF), believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, claimed responsibility. Officials dealing with the insurgency since 1990 insist that a sticky bomb was detonated with a remote-control device.
In view of the highest rush of the pilgrims this year, authorities have for the first time introduced Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags for the Amarnath pilgrims this year. Pilgrims would be checked and frisked randomly throughout the Yatra route. The pilgrimage is scheduled to start on 30 June and end on 11 August. Over 6 lakh tourists visited Kashmir till 30 April this year.
While the Union Home Ministry has reportedly agreed to provide 30,000 more paramilitary personnel to protect the pilgrimage from any possible terror attack, Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the situation at the highest-level meeting in New Delhi last week. The follow-up review meeting was conducted by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in Srinagar. On Friday, Director-General of Police Dilbag Singh presided over the third high level meeting in a week to ensure safety of the pilgrims.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)