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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three Mumbai women killed in Anantnag blast, 5 injured

80 sq inch crater on floor indicates grenade blast; driver says motorcyclist threw in a grenade; Police calls it LPG cylinder blast but awaits FSL opinion

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Jul 28: Three female members of a Mumbai family, including two NRIs living in England, died and five others sustained injuries in a mysterious blast on their Pahalgam-bound bus at Bijbehara in the south Kashmir district of Anantnag today. Even as preliminary reports described it as a grenade attack and Police later asserted it was an LPG blast that happened accidentally on the bus, most of the officials sounded confused with regard to source of the explosion.

Informed sources in south Kashmir told Early Times that at around 1330 hours, a powerful blast occurred inside a tourist bus, bearing registration No: JK02AP/0676, at the entrance of Government Higher Secondary School at Zeripora, across Padshahi Bagh bridge on the river Jhelum, in Bijbehara. Coming from Katra, the passenger carriage was on way to Pahalgam via Sallar. Three women passengers died and five more, having sustained multiple injuries, were evacuated and rushed to Srinagar for medical treatment. They were admitted to SKIMS.

Three women killed in the blast were identified as Neesha Jeetwah W/o Anil Jeetwah, Nirmala Rathore W/o Jai Raj and Indu Bhai. Neesha and Indu, according to official sources, were NRIs living in England. Five more of the group, who were admitted to SKIMS, were identified as Bharti W/o Ashwini Kumar, Neeta Jeetwah W/o Bharat Jeetwah, Preetama Jeetwah W/o Vinod Jeetwah, Jayshri Desai W/o Arun Kumar and Jaswanti Thakur W/o Vasant Thakur.

Doctors attending the injured women at SKIMS told Early Times that 60-year-old Nirmala Devi succumbed to injuries when she was under treatment. “70-year-old Indira is critical with multiple injuries on her body”, said a doctor. He said that Neeta (59), Geeta (50), Jaswanti (70) and Jaishri (55) had sustained minor injuries and were under observation in a ward. All the four would be most likely discharged in the forenoon on Monday, he said.

Initially, officials maintained that the blast had occurred when militants lobbed a hand grenade on the bus. With that, condemnation statements began to pour in from different political parties. However, later in the afternoon, Kashmir zone headquarters of J&K Police issued a statement, seeking to clarify that an LPG cylinder had exploded accidentally on the bus. “Today a cylinder exploded in a vehicle which was on way from Srinagar to Pahalgam bearing registration number JK02AP/0676 at Zuripora, Anantnag, falling under the jurisdiction of police station”, it said and released identification of the three women killed in the blast as also that of the five injured females.

Police officials, who conducted as inspection of the ill-fated bus, said that the blast has created an 8 inches x 10 inches crater on the board which serves as a strong indication that it was either a grenade or an IED. They said it was unlikely that a 5-kg LPG cylinder could have caused such a huge damage and a crater on the floor.

Driver of the bus, Ashok Kumar S/o Dev Raj R/o Sunder Tekri, Udhampur, was discharged in the evening from a Srinagar hospital. He was at Police Station Bijbehara to record his statement late this evening. Sources said that the driver made it clear that he had carried the family of eight women from Jammu to Katra where they performed pilgrimage at Mata Vaishnu Devi shrine. Thereafter, they wanted to visit Pahalgam.

According to the driver, the Mumbai group of Vaisnu Devi pilgrims had no programme of pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine. Rather than taking the routinely crowded Yatra route of Khannabal-Pahalgam (KP) Road, he diverted through Bijbehara. He stated that when the bus was passing through Bijbehara, he spotted two motorcycle-borne youth coming close to the vehicle. One of them, according to the driver, threw a grenade inside the bus through an open glass pane. Suddenly, there was a blast that left two women dead and six of the group wounded. (Later, one of the injured died at SKIMS).

However, one of the injured women passengers stated to Police that the group was carrying a 5-kg LPG cylinder.

DIG South Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, told Early Times that the explosion occurred at 1.30 p.m. when he, alongwith a team of senior Police and civil officers of J&K Government, was in a meeting with the Supreme Court-appointed high power committee on Amarnath Yatra deaths, at Pahalgam. He said that initially there was a lot of confusion as the inputs invariably said that a grenade had exploded inside the bus. He said that later a team of officers, including SDPO and SHO of Bijbehara, said that an LPG cylinder had actually gone off on board the bus.

Vijay Kumar said that a team of forensic experts from FSL Srinagar would arrive in Bijbehara in the morning on Sunday to collect necessary samples and conduct a thorough ballistic analysis. “That alone could ascertain whether it was an explosive device or an LPG blast”, Vijay Kumar said. He said that Police had registered a case and seized the bus that was now parked on premises of Police Station Bijbehara.

DIG said that Police were investigating whether the bus had stopped for lunch or tea at any highway stations between Udhampur and Bijbehara. He ruled out the grenade attack as, according to him, not a single glass pane or wind screen of the bus had broken. He maintained that the confusion between the LPG blast and an explosive device would be cleared with the ballistic examination tomorrow.


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