Lethpora Suicide Attack: The Complete Story

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by Saima Bhat

 SRINAGAR: Around 45 CRPF personnel were killed and 38 are reported injured after their convoy came under a suicide attack in Lethpora area, on the Srinagar Jammu highway on Thursday. The big bus carrying the personnel was rammed in by an explosives-laden vehicle.

Forces personnel near the site of the attack in Lethpora area of Awantipora

Top police sources informed Kashmir Life that the state police intelligence had the input of a possible ‘terror attack’ which was shared with all other intelligence agencies. “One video was uploaded by Jaish e Muhammad (JeM) militant outfit on February 12, 2019, in which they had shown a vehicle was blown up somewhere in Afghanistan and the people in the vehicle were literally blown to pieces. The group had warned the state that same kind of attack will be held in Kashmir,” the official said.

State Governor Satya Pal Malik also confirmed to Delhi based media about the state having inputs about an impending attack. ” We had intelligence inputs but there has been some lapse (laparwahi) because we could not detect such a vehicle laden with explosives reaching that spot,” he was quoted saying.

Reports suggest the Home Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to visit Kashmir on Friday to have an immediate meeting with the security grid in the state. Sources also confirmed that the National Investigative Agency (NIA) is also likely to visit Kashmir tomorrow to investigate the attack. An IG rank NIA officer will lead a 12-member team to the spot. The state police have protected the scene of the attack even though it was raining for most of the day.

The Attack

A CRPF vehicle damaged in Lethpora attack on Thursday, February 14, 2019. KL Image

It was somewhere between 3.15 and 3.30 pm on Thursday when the attack was reported. The blast echoed even in Srinagar. Not many details are available as the road and the spot of the attack was closed immediately. Internet services in the area have been interrupted.

 “We heard a blast like sound and at first I thought maybe a gas cylinder has exploded in the locality. But soon the shop started shaking as if it was an earthquake and the chandelier fell down,” Feroz, a salesman working in Lethpora market told Kashmir Life. He was attending a few tourists who were buying dry fruits.

 Feroz along with the tourists came out of the shop but they heard the sound of bullets and he suggested his guests to get into the shop. “After firing stopped, after 10 minutes, we tried to come out of the shop to check what has happened but nothing was visible and both ends to the national highway were blocked,” he said.

 The attack happened on the convoy of more than 2,500 CRPF which was travelling in around 78 vehicles. “These personnel were returning from leave to rejoin their duties but once they reached higher secondary school in Lethpora, a vehicle driven by militant Adil rammed into the bus and it blasted,” said a top police official.

A site of the blast at Lethpora Awantipora in which 45 CRPF troopers were killed on Feb 14, 2019

A CRPF official told a local news-gatherer that the car bomb impact was taken by two vehicles – one carrying 44 personnel and another one with 39 men. The men belonged to various battalions: 92, 17, 54, 82, 61, 21, 98, 118, 76, 45, 03 and 176. “While none from the bus carrying 44 CRPF men survived, one o the injured among those travelling in another bus succumbed,” the news gatherer said. All the injured were evacuated to the 92-Base hospital in Srinagar’s 15 Corps Headquarters.

Jaish Stakes Claim

Soon after the attack the militant outfit JeM claimed the responsibility of the attack and identified the militant driving the suicide vehicle as Adil Ahmad from Gundibagh, Kakapora in Pulwama. Adil had joined the organisation in March 2018. After the statement, one video of Adil also surfaced on social networking sites in which he is speaking for 10.10 minutes and calling the attack as ‘revenge’. He claimed he belonged to the Afzal Guru squad of JeM. Jaish is led by Pakistan based Masood Azhar, who was jailed in Srinagar and later exchanged in the Kandahar barter following over a hijacking.  

Adil, 21, is survived by his father Ghulam Hassan Dar, who sells cloth on his cycle by going door-to-door, his mother and two more brothers.

Adil reportedly joined the militant ranks in March 2018. He was a class 12th dropout and then he joined a local Madrassa. To support his family he was working as a mason and was leading prayers in a local Masjid before joining militancy. Reportedly his first cousin, Sameer Ahmad, is also a militant who joined militancy a day later to Adil. Sameer was pursuing his post graduation in Kashmir University when he joined militant ranks, reports said. Earlier in June, his family was in the news when they claimed they survived a nocturnal bid on their home.

 As the last reports came in, at least three funeral prayers in absentia were held for Adil at his native village.

 The top sources in the police also confirmed that around 330 kgs of explosive material were used in the attack that reduced the bus to a mangled heap of iron. Many other vehicles of the convoy were also damaged in the attack and body parts were seen strewn around the area.

A list of CRPF troopers who were killed in the blast in Lethpora Awantipora o Feb 14, 2019

Reportedly the CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar has informed media that the convoy started from Jammu around 3.30 am and was supposed to reach Srinagar before sunset.

The bus with vehicle number HR 49 F 0637 that came under attack belonged to the 76th battalion of the force and had 42 personnel on board, including the driver.

Soon after the blast, some bullet shots were also heard but the police said they are still ascertaining the facts “if the convoy buses had bullet marks or splinters.”

But a private Maruti vehicle that reached Pampore sub district hospital had a few bullet marks. Out of the four passengers, two had minor injuries who were injured by the windscreen of the vehicle because of the high-intensity blast.

One minor kid, a resident of Lethpora was also taken to Pampore SDH with minor injuries on his head after some window panes fell over his head while he was going home.

Police Statement

 Meanwhile, the state police have come with an official statement reading:

“Police in Police District Awantipora today attended a gruesome terror crime spot at Ladhu Mode Lethpora at about 1515 hours following an explosion by terrorists targeting a security forces’ convoy travelling from Jammu to Srinagar. One vehicle which was part of the convoy carrying CRPF Personnel bore the brunt of the blast resulting in multiple casualties. The exact number of casualties is being ascertained; so far 33 fatal causalities have been confirmed. Injured have been shifted to hospitals for medical treatment.

Police have registered a case in the matter. Officers investigating this terror crime are at work to establish the full circumstances which led to the blast.

 We condemn this gruesome terror attack and stand by the families of martyred and injured jawans at this critical juncture.

 Citizens are requested to stay away from the blast site as the blast site needs to be preserved properly for investigators to examine. Your cooperation will be much appreciated in this regard.

 If you have any information that can assist police in investigating this terror crime, you may kindly contact police.”

Police have also cancelled their yearly Police-Public Mela which was scheduled on February 17. The counter-insurgent grid has taken 15 villages around the spot of the attack in the tight cordon.

 Condemnations

“The US Mission in India strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir,” US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster tweeted. “We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims.” It said the US stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating

The attack was condemned by all mainstream parties including National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, JK Pradesh Congress, and Peoples Conference.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condemned the attack late night and said the sacrifices will not go in vain. Reports said the Cabinet Committee on Security, the highest decision-making body on the security-related issues, will meet in Delhi at 9:15 pm on Friday. Possibly, the Home Minister will take off for Srinagar later. Governor Satya Pal Malik is also flying to Srinagar from Jammu.

 The Biggest Attack

The Thursday attack is said to be the biggest militant attack in Kashmir in the last two decades in which the militants used a car and a suicide bomber. In May 2000, Afaq Ahmed Shah, a class 12 student blew himself, along with his Maruti car, to attack the 15 Corps headquarters in Badami Bagh Cantonment.

In 2001, a car bombing of the same magnitude happened, which was also planned by JeM, outside the Srinagar secretariat killing 38 people and injuring 40 others.

In November 2005, a few hours before the swearing in of Ghulam Nabi Azad as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, a suicide squad involving a car bomb, took place at Nowgam area killing at least 10 people and injuring 18 others.

And very recently, on December 31, 2017, a suicide attack was held on a CRPF camp in Lethpora in which a class 10th turned militant Fardeen, his accomplice and five personnel died.

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