A police spokesman said the bus was returning from the hard-to-reach Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath when militants and Indian police exchanged fire at Botengoo, Monday night, on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, south of the capital Srinagar.
“Terrorists fired on a police checkpoint and the fire was returned. A tourist bus was hit by bullets,” police spokesman Manoj Pandita said in a statement.
An estimated 60 to 70 pilgrims had boarded the bus at the Baltel base camp, reaching Botengoo just after sunset around 8.20 p.m. local time.
The bus was traveling after sunset — which is banned throughout the region due to security restrictions. It didn’t have the usual police escort and may not have had the correct registration paperwork, according to local authorities.
Amarnath is considered one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. Located at an altitude of 3,888 meteres (12,756 feet) and surrounded by snowy mountain peaks, the annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine kicked off on June 29 and will culminate on August 7.
The last major attack on pilgrims in the area was carried out in August 2002
, in which nine people were killed in Pahalgam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack on social media
, saying that “India will never get bogged down by such cowardly attacks and evil designs of hate.”
The attack coincided with the first anniversary of the death of Burhan Wani
, a 21-year-old commander of the militant separatist group Hizbul Mujaheedin.
It happened just hours after a government imposed curfew was lifted. The curfew had been placed over the weekend in anticipation of an attack to mark the anniversary.
Wani’s death in July 2016 resulted in violent clashes between between protesters and security forces, that left at least 20 people dead and more than 300 injured.