Srinagar: At a time when the militants carried out the deadly attack in the saffron town of Pampore killing at least eight CRPF personnel and wounding 21 others on June 25, the security forces including police were already on alert having intelligence inputs of the possible strike on the highway.
In fact, when the militants sprayed the bus carrying the personnel of 161 battalion of CRPF with bullets at Frestbal, 14km from here, search operation were already underway, at a stones throw, to check vehicles driving down the busy route. There was general input of a possible attack, so we were keeping an eye, a top official told Kashmir Observer.
Highly placed sources said senior police officials including Superintendent of Police Awantipora Sridhar Patil and SDPO Parvaiz Ahmed were personally on patrol on the highway, when two heavily armed Lashkar-e-Taiba Fidayeen took the paramilitary bus by surprise on the Jhelum banks. The twin officials had erected a police Naka some 300 meters, downstream, on the highway. SHO Pampore was equally on patrol at another check post.
On the other hand, a Road Opening Party (ROP) of the CRPF was vigilant in the area to ensure secured movement of security force vehicles.
But suddenly, at around 4:45 PM, heavy gunfire reverberated the area. While the cops at the nearby police post took positions, sources said, a flash on the police communication network identified the exact location of the encounter spot.
As waiting for counterinsurgency reinforcements, who are specialized to counter militants strikes, to rush in could take time on the busy route, the police officials are understood to have spontaneously taken a lead.
Witnesses said the SP and the DSP picked up guns and strode towards their vehicles. The four odd vehicles, including gypsies and Rakshaks of the escort rushed towards the spot.
This all took some two minutes to reach there. Now the cops had a face-off with the two Fidayeen. The bus, from where cries could be heard, stood immobilized as its tyres were burst by the massive gunfire. An amateur video trending on social media shows militants attacking the bus from the front.
As cops took positions, sources said one of the Fidayeen was seen near the front door of the bus, presumably trying to sneak in.
Now it was gunfire from all sides. The highway towards Srinagar had the SP and the DSP positioned with their escorts while at the other end it was SHO Pampore Manzoor Beigh and his escort.
Towards east was a CRPF bunker while the paramilitary ROP was on the west towards Jhelum. There was no scope for any escape for them (militants) who kept firing indiscriminately, said a cop.
He said their priority remained not to let the militants sneak into the bus and to evacuate the wounded as by now, blood could be seen flowing out of the bus.
The heavy exchange of gunfire between the two groups lasted for around another 15 minutes till the militant duo was finally killed.
It is being believed that the prompt response from the state police prevented the militants from sneaking into the bus. Had they stormed into the bus, the toll could have been much high, said an official.
Subsequently as the security forces got access to the bus wrecked in gunfire, the wounded were taken to Armys 92 Base Hospital at BB Cantt, where five were declared brought dead.
But nobody knew that three bodies of CRPF personnel were lying unnoticed. Sources said it was only when some officials got into the bus to have a look inside that the bodies were discovered on the rear seat.
The paramilitary CRPF had initially claimed that four militants reached the spot in a car, from which two of them alighted for the strike, while other two fled. But police is yet to authenticate the claims.
Initial inputs suggest that they came in a car, but all who tried to attack were cornered and killed, there was no scope of anyone of them (militants) fleeing the spot, said a senior official.
Police believes that the militants had carefully chosen the spot for the ambush as every vehicle has to slow down there because of a sharp curve on the road. The cops suspect a reconnaissance might have preceded the assault.
Director General of Police K Rajendra Kumar has termed the Pampore ambush a snakes attack at a place where vehicles have to slow down their speed due to huge traffic inflow.
Lashkar-e-Toiba spokesman Dr Abdullah Gaznavi had claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement mailed to local news agencies in Srinagar.
The attack has left the security agencies unnerved as the annual Amaranth Yatra is round the corner and Pampore highway happens to be a strategic route to the cave shrine in south Kashmir.
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