SRINAGAR: Security agencies are investigating to understand the mysterious blaze that killed four Vaishno Devi pilgrims and left 24 others with serious burn injuries on Friday. Federal investigators, National Investigation Agency (NIA), and Intelligence Bureau are helping the Jammu and Kashmir Police in the investigations, reports appearing in the media said.
On Saturday, a team of NIA sleuths examined the bus (JK14-1831) wreckage near Nomai and Kharmal, around 3 km from Katra, and carried samples for forensic testing.
The bus caught fire when it had barely left Katra, the base camp for Hindu pilgrimage, towards Jammu. Visuals available on the internet suggest that the bus has been able to move almost 20 meters after the fire started. It finally halted near the Shani Dev mandir. Claims that there was some sort of an explosion before the bus caught fire is being disputed. Initial police reports said the bus engine caught the fire and the flames within seconds engulfed the entire bus.
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On Saturday, various newspapers in Delhi and Punjab carried the news that some little known militant outfit “Jammu & Kashmir Freedom Fighters” claimed the responsibility for the fire incident. The outfit, these reports claimed had staked the claim for various other bomb attacks in Rajouri and Udhampur. This led the security grid to review the entire case and investigate to locate the sabotage angle if any.
Jammu and Kashmir, later sought help from NIA, though the case is still with the Jammu and Kashmir Police. Unidentified sources were quoted by various media outlets suggesting that a sticky bomb was used in setting the bus afire.
“The sticky bomb was attached near the fuel tank of the bus full of pilgrims,” one newspaper quoted the unidentified sources saying. “The NIA and intelligence teams had visited the incident site and had detected traces of RDX in the bomb. Moreover, a traveller gave a dying declaration that he heard the explosion before the fire.”
Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs one lakh to the seriously injured.
The incident took place around 4.10 pm on Friday when the passenger bus had barely moved 3 km from Katra on way to Jammu.
The single door passenger bus carried more than 28 persons of whom four were charred to death. Passengers on board had their prayers at the shrine and were on their way home. Most of them belonged to Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. There were a number of passengers from Jammu as well who survived injured. Almost all the injured were shifted to the tertiary care hospitals in Jammu.The state and status of the driver of the bus was not immedaitely known.
A lot of versions are making rounds on the internet. In one video clip, an inconsolable lady is heard saying that the passengers were attracted by discounted bus fare of Rs 50 instead of Rs 80. “We had travelled barely 10 minutes that there was an explosion,” she is heard saying.
It took police some time to identify the slain four because they were burnt beyond recognition. These four persons are believed to have been seated near or around the diesel tank that seemingly was the first to catch fire. They have been identified as Bagheswar Chowhan, son of Rajwanshi Chowhan resident of village Abrakoul tehsil Gazipur, UP, Shivam Chouwan, 3 years grandson of Lt Bagheswar Chouwan resident of village Abrakoul, Gazipur (UP), Laxmi wife of Jagdish Prashad resident of village Pura Dhanoti, Barabanki (UP), Meena Devi wife of Padam Chand resident of Maghal Pamote , Katra (Jammu).
The injured, however, were identified as as Komal, daughter of Sheetla Prasad of Lucknow (UP), Reela Devi, wife of Shiv Punjab Chouhan of Ghazipur (UP), Naresh Kumar, son of Madan Lal of Kadmal Katra, Radha Devi, wife of Ravi Kumar of Latori Katra, Ram Kumar, son of Shri Pal of Lucknow, Bunty, son of Arjun Ahriwar of Jabalpur (UP), his wife Rani Ahirwal and their three-year old daughter Reyanshi Vaishnavi, Hemant Sharma, son of Ram Parwesh, resident of Gorkha Nagar Jammu, Tharu, son of Shankar, resident of Lucknow (UP), Shivpujan Chouhan, son of Bageshwar Chouhan of Gajipur (UP), his mother Sancheri Devi and four- year old son Reesu Chouhan, Omwati, wife of Seeshpal of Faridabad (UP), her two daughters, Jyoti Thakur and Kajal; Mana Devi, wife of Neeraj Sharma of Gorkha Nagar Jammu, Rajesh Singh, son of Ram Dev of Uttam Nagar Delhi, Bhim Sahu, son of Sukar Sahu of Faridabad, Sumitra wife of Deepak of Gorkha Nagar Jammu, Ashok, son of Sameer, resident of Delhi, Joginder Singh, son of Munshi Ram of Billawar, Kajal, daughter of Niraj Sharma of Gorkha Nagar Jammu and Sangeeta, wife of Ashok of Delhi.