A suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian policemen in Kashmir on Thursday, killing 44 of them in the deadliest attack in decades on security forces in the disputed region, an incident likely to raise tensions with neighboring Pakistan.
The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack on a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force on Jammu and Kashmir's main highway, local GNS news agency said.
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 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 highway.
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.
“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.
India accuses Pakistan of giving material support to the militants. Islamabad says it offers only moral and diplomatic support to Muslim Kashmiris in their struggle for self-determination.
The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri that killed 20 soldiers.
The United States’ ambassador to India condemned the attack and offered condolences.
“The United States stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it,” Ambassador Ken Juster said in a tweet.
In a statement carried by GNS news agency, a spokesman for the Jaish-e-Mohammad group said dozens of security force vehicles were destroyed in the attack.
Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of the most powerful militant groups operating in Kashmir, was blamed for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that led to India deploying its military on the border with Pakistan.
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