Shabir Ibn Yusuf
Botengo (Anantnag): In this Anantnag area on Srinagar-Jammu highway, it’s chaos and panic all around as the residents are unable to come to terms with the horror that yesterday’s attack in which seven Amarnath pilgrims were killed unleashed.
A group of shell-shocked residents, who spoke to Greater Kashmir strictly on the condition of anonymity, said they are “very scared to even recount the attack aftermath, let alone talk about it.”
The witnesses including some shopkeepers and their customers—and also a group of cobblers from Rajasthan who are residing about 100 meters away from the attack spot—said they “very closely” saw some gunmen in civvies carrying out the attack.
“It was cries and screams from inside the bus. The victims were calling for help. We tried to step in to help the injured, but were stopped by police, army and paramilitary forces after they reached the spot,” the witnesses said.
“The firing continued for at least seven minutes. We saw some people in plain clothes who resorted to intense firing,” said the group of cobblers.
A shopkeeper at Batengoo said he could not even move out of his shop once the firing started. “Had the gunmen fired on the bus tyres, the casualties could have been more,” he said.
The shopkeeper said “some attackers, who wore ‘Khan dresses’, were carrying AK-47 rifles. I could not see the weapons carried by others.”
Many residents of Botengo said “we first thought a tipper was unloading boulders., but later came to know that a pilgrim bus has been attacked.”
Seven Amarnath pilgrims died and 12 others were injured in the attack that evoked strong condemnation from Kashmir’s political as well as social circles.
What is a cause of anxiety and surprise for the witnesses is a volley of questions related to the attack.
“We are unable to understand how the attack took place amid round-the-clock security on the highway, especially at Botengoo, and why police, army and paramilitary forces personnel didn’t turn up at the attack spot for at least 25 minutes,” a group of residents said.
They also questioned how the bus managed to go through multiple security check points despite not being registered with the Amarnath Shrine Board.
“The bus carrying 60 unregistered pilgrims visited the cave shrine and no one noticed. How is it possible?” the residents asked. “How is it possible that the bus left the yatra base camp where security happens to be tight and plied on the heavily-guarded highway and was not checked even once?”
The residents also asked why the bus was allowed to travel after sunset in violation of standard operating procedures governing Amarnath yatra.
“Security is provided only to registered vehicles. The presence of a police vehicle, which the police claim was also targeted, has raised a question whether it was guarding the bus or just happened to travel ahead of it,” asked the group of residents.
The attack, according to locals, took place barely 200 yards away from a police post of “Special Operations Group” of Anantnag police at 8.20 pm.
Locals said at around 10 pm, police, army’s Rashtriya Rifles soldiers and CRPF men entered many localities of Baitengo and Baitengo Ghat.
“They arrested five people including four youth from house of Mushtaq Ahmad Laway. The house is located behind the attack spot,” they said.
Locals accused government forces of ransacking residential houses and beating up inmates.
At 10.30 pm, a joint column of RR and police entered the house of Laway. “They damaged doors, windowpanes, ransacked the house and arrested five people.”
The family identified the arrested persons as Mushtaq Ahmad Laway (36), Showkat Ahmad Laway (30), Amir Amin (20) and Asif Amin (18) and 23-year-old Jaffer Ahmad Khan.
“They beat all of them and blood was oozing from their noses,” Shahzad Bagum, the house owner told Grater Kashmir. “What is our sin?”
She alleged that soldiers looted cash of over Rs 30,000 from the house.