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Six Vaishno Devi pilgrims killed in blast
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar and agencies |
July 21, 2003 22:07 IST
Last Updated: July 22, 2003 10:41 IST
At least six devotees, including a child, were killed and 48 injured, in twin powerful explosions set off on Monday night by militants at Banganga, two kilometres from Katra, on way to Vaishno Devi shrine, police sources said.
Jammu and Kashmir Minister of State for Public Health Engineering Jugal Kishore told PTI that a grenade was hurled by militants at a large number of devotees who gathered for food at a community kitchen (langar) at around 2115 hours IST.
Another blast went off within ten minutes near the community kitchen where pilgrims are served food on their way to and return from shrine, he said.
Security in the area was tightened recently following intelligence reports that militants are lurking nearby to strike at the pilgrims for both Vaishno Devi Shrine and Amarnath Cave.
A team of Union home ministry officials had visited Katra last month and recommended strengthening of the security apparatus in the area.
But Kishore claimed the security in the area was not strengthened despite his repeated pleas with the police administration.
Kishore said the seriously wounded people were moved to Jammu Medical College.
Since a large number of devotees on their way to and return from the temple take food at the community kitchen, officials here fear the casualty figure may go up.
Union Minister of State for Home Chinmayanand said the blasts were triggered to derail the peace initiatives taken by India with Pakistan and to arouse communal passions.
Chinmayanand said he would visit the site of the blasts on Tuesday.
He said Pakistani intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence or Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba could be behind the attacks aimed at arousing communal passions.
Such incidents, he said, take place whenever there are signs of improving relations between India and Pakistan.
Police estimate nearly 2000 pilgrims were there near the community kitchen at the time of the blasts.
This is the peak season for Vaishno Devi pilgrimage and on an average 15,000 devotees visit the shrine everyday.
The grenade attacks triggered widespread panic in the area as pilgrims ran helter skelter leaving their baggage littered all over the place.
Local residents joined police and voluntary groups' rescue efforts by bringing their own vehicles to transport the wounded to nearest medical centres, witnesses said.
Security apparatus in Pahalgam, which comes on the Amarnath Yatra path, has been strengthened following the attacks.
A grenade attack had taken place at Banganga in April last year, which left three people injured.
At least 90 pilgrims were killed when militants swooped on Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in Pahalgam in August last year.
Shiv Sena has called for a Jammu bandh on Wednesday.