Kashmir car bomb kills 44; India demands Pakistan act against militants

Indian security forces inspect the remains of a bus following an attack on a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy that killed at least 25 troopers and injured several others near Awantipora town, about 30 kms South of Srinagar, in Lethpora on February 14, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019

Kashmir car bomb kills 44; India demands Pakistan act against militants

  • Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan and riven by unrest since the end of British rule in 1947
  • The attack happened near the main city of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India: A suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on Thursday, killing 44 of them in the deadliest attack in decades on security forces in the disputed region, raising tensions with arch foe Pakistan.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. The Indian government accused Pakistan of letting militant groups operate from its soil and called on it to take action.
Islamabad said it rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.
Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. The neighbors both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
The explosion targeting a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was heard from several miles away, according to witnesses. Mohammad Yunis, a journalist who reached the site minutes later, told Reuters he saw blood and body parts scattered along a 100-meter stretch of the main highway running through the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement, hours after the attack.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the attack a matter of “grave concern.” But in a brief statement early on Friday it added, “We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian government and media circles that seek to link the attack to the State of Pakistan without investigations.”
Islamabad has previously denied New Delhi’s accusations that it gives material help to the militants fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir. It says it gives only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
The White House urged Pakistan in a statement “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil.” It said the attack strengthens US resolve to step up counter-terrorism cooperation with India.
Television images showed a mangled car amid rubble and snow around the site. Reuters photos showed tens of policemen surveying damaged vehicles and one policeman was seen carrying a plastic cover with guns inside.
The death toll stood at 44, a senior police official said.
The Central Reserve Force Police is a paramilitary organization that is working with the Indian military to quell the 30-year insurgency in Kashmir.
“I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
Indian forces have sporadically battled Islamist militants in mountainous Kashmir since an armed revolt in 1989 in which tens of thousands were killed, but car bombings are rare.
A video circulating on social media on Thursday purportedly featured the suicide bomber, and showed a young man holding a gun and threatening more attacks. Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
The Indian foreign ministry accused the Pakistani government of giving the militant group Jaish a free run in Pakistan, saying it has allowed the group’s leader, Masood Azhar, “to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity.”
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri, killing 20 soldiers.
Tension with Pakistan rose after that incident when New Delhi said the attackers had come from Pakistan to stage the assault. Pakistan denied any involvement.

MODI UNDER PRESSURE
The attack could put Modi, who faces a general election due by May, under political pressure to act against the militants and Pakistan.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, accused Modi of compromising on security.
“Zero political action & Zero policy to tackle terror has led to an alarming security situation,” Surjewala said in one of a series of tweets.
Kanwal Sibal, a former top diplomat, said a diplomatic response from India would not be enough.
“They will have to do something otherwise I think it will be very difficult for government to absorb this blow and be seen to be doing nothing,” Sibal told Reuters.
The Jaish-e-Mohammad group is one of the most powerful militant groups operating in Kashmir. It was blamed for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that led to India deploying its military on the border with Pakistan.
In a statement carried by GNS news agency, a spokesman for the group said dozens of security force vehicles were destroyed in the attack.
Arun Jaitley, a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, said India would retaliate, tweeting that “terrorists will be given unforgettable lesson for their heinous act.”
On Wednesday, an explosion at a school in Kashmir wounded a dozen students. The cause of the blast remains unclear. 


New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

In this picture taken on February 14, 2020, a Malaysia Airlines hostess (R) wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a Chinese passenger before she boards a flight to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
Updated 18 min 19 sec ago

New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.
South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, the US government said the more than 100 American passengers who stayed on the ship or were hospitalized in Japan would have to wait for another two weeks before they could return to the US
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.