At least 12 Indian soldiers were killed on Thursday in the deadliest attack on government forces in India-administered Kashmir in more than two years, police said.
They died when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off as a convoy of military vehicles drove on a highway some 20 kilometers from the main city of Srinagar. “An IED went off as a CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] convoy passed by,” said senior police officer Munir Ahmed Khan. “We have 12 CRPF fatalities. We are evacuating the injured from the site and don’t have their number at the moment.”
The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency put the death toll at 18.
CRPF spokesman Sanjay Kumar said that the explosives were inside a car, while local media reports said the explosive-laden vehicle was driven into the convoy.
“It was a powerful explosion. The explosive was car-borne,” Kumar told AFP.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another CRPF official said at least 29 troops were injured in the blast, which damaged a number of vehicles in the convoy.
Unconfirmed photos showed the charred remains of at least one vehicle littered across the highway, alongside blue military buses as black smoke billowed upwards.
Local media reports said the Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group had claimed responsibility. A spokesman for the group said the “suicide attack” was carried out by a militant called Aadil Ahmad, alias Waqas Commando, in a statement sent to local newspapers.
The last major car bombing, which killed 40 people including three suicide attackers, was also carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed, in 2001. The target of that attack was the local parliament building in Srinagar. Another car bomb attack also happened in Srinagar in March 2005 in which one civilian died and several soldiers were wounded.
Thursday’s attack was the deadliest on Indian forces in its part of Kashmir since September 2016 when 19 soldiers were killed in a brazen pre-dawn raid by militants on the Uri army camp.
India blamed militants in Pakistan for that attack, the biggest in 14 years, and responded by allegedly carrying out strikes across the heavily-militarized Line of Control. Indian officials claimed troops conducted the “surgical strikes” several kilometers inside the Pakistan-controlled side of the disputed territory to prevent attacks being planned on major Indian cities.
The strikes are a source of national pride for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and were the subject of a recent Bollywood film, Uri: The Surgical Strike.
India has an estimated 500,000 soldiers in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Rebel groups have been fighting for an independent Kashmir, or a merger with Pakistan, since 1989.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of fueling the insurgency that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it only provides diplomatic support to Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.