Kashmir car bomb attack kills dozens of Indian troops
Blast blamed on rebels is one of the deadliest in disputed region's history
At least 33 soldiers were killed and about 20 others wounded Thursday in a car bomb attack on a paramilitary convoy along a key highway in Indian-controlled Kashmir, security officials say.
A report from Reuters said as many as 44 soldiers were killed. The attack was one of the deadliest car bombings in the disputed region's history.
Officials said a local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into the convoy, targeting a bus carrying at least 35 soldiers.
Senior police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan said the attack occurred as the convoy reached southern Lethpora, a town on the outskirts of the main city of Srinagar. He said the bus was destroyed and at least five other vehicles were damaged by the blast.
Sanjay Sharma, a spokesperson for India's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, said many of the injured were in critical condition.
"The blast was so powerful that one cannot recognize whether the vehicle was a bus or a truck. Just pieces of mangled steel remain of the vehicle," he said.
Videos circulated by local news groups showed ambulances rushing to the site and people running as smoke billowed from the damaged vehicles. Debris and body parts littered the road.
Authorities closed the highway following the blast. Police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan said soldiers and counterinsurgency police reinforcements were deployed in the area and were conducting searches.
India's government said a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e Mohammed, carried out the deadly attack and demanded that its neighbour act against militant groups operating from its soil.
A pre-recorded nine-minute video, circulated on social media sites, showed the purported attacker in combat clothes and surrounded by guns and grenades. He was identified by local news portals as a Kashmiri rebel named Adil Ahmed from the southern Pulwama area.
Later Thursday, thousands of people, chanting slogans such as "Brother Adil: your blood will bring revolution" and "Go India, go back," marched to the militant's village in solidarity. Government forces tried to stop the villagers from gathering, leading to clashes as groups of young people hurled stones at the troops, who fired tear gas. No injuries were immediately reported there.
Kashmir Gov. Satya Pal Malik accused Pakistan of guiding the attack.
"Visibly it seems to be guided from across the border as Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility," Malik said in a statement. "Such actions will not deter the resolve of our security forces ... we will finish these inimical forces to the last."
In a tweet Thursday evening, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain."
Indian soldiers are ubiquitous in the disputed Kahsmir Kashmir and local residents make little secret of their fury toward their presence in the Himalayan region. India and Pakistan each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Kashmir has experienced renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests against Indian rule in the past few years. A new generation of Kashmiri rebels, especially in the southern parts of the region, has revived the militancy and challenged New Delhi's rule using both violence and social media.
The anti-India unrest grew after a popular rebel leader was killed in 2016. The Indian government responded with stepped up anti-rebel operations, leading to more protests.
Last year's death toll was the highest since 2009 in the Muslim-majority Kashmir, including at least 260 militants, 160 civilians and 150 government forces.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the past three decades in the uprising against Indian rule.
With files from Reuters