Attack by militants kills at least six Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir

At least six Hindu pilgrims have died in a firefight between militants and police in Kashmir during a highly sensitive religious procession.

Monday evening’s attack in the southern district of Anantnag is the deadliest against Hindu pilgrims in the majority-Muslim region since 2000, and comes amid heightened religious tensions across northern India and another summer of violence in Kashmir.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted he was “pained beyond words at the dastardly attack” on Hindus participating in the Amarnath Yatra, an annual pilgrimage to a cave shrine near the hill station of Pahalgam. Modi added:

The pilgrimage, which has grown enormously in popularity since the early 1990s and been a source of tension in the past, went ahead this year despite police intelligence of a planned militant attack.

Unprecedented security measures, including surveillance cameras, bulletproof bunkers and phone jammers, had been implemented to protect the estimated 115,000 pilgrims.

The pilgrimage was suspended on Saturday because of security fears on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Burhan Wani, an anti-India militant whose death triggered weeks of protests and the longest curfew in the history of Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Police in Kashmir said the attack began with militants firing on a security bunker and a police checkpoint in Anantnag. “The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets in which about 18 tourists were injured,” they said in a statement. “Among them six persons died while [the] rest are being treated.”

One pilgrim taken to a hospital in Anantnag said: “There was a lot of firing. We don’t know what happened. We were going to Katra [in the Jammu region] from Srinagar.”

A former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, tweeted the attack was “the one thing we had all feared this year”.

(@abdullah_omar)

Very sad news. The attack cannot be condemned strongly enough. My sympathies to the families & prayers for the injured.

The internet has been temporarily suspended in Kashmir but in a sign of the authorities bracing for a backlash, sources in the telecommunications sector told the Guardian the internet would also be temporarily shut down in Jammu, a region in the state with a greater Hindu population.

An active militancy has raged in the disputed state since around 1989. Separatist groups call for Kashmir to be granted independence from Delhi or to merge with neighbouring Pakistan, which controls a chunk of the state divided from the Indian-run side by a heavily militarised “line of control”.

An attack on the same pilgrimage in 2000 killed 30 people, most of them Hindus, and was blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Additional reporting by Azhar Farooq in Srinagar

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