At least 41 police paramilitaries were killed and many others wounded in an attack on their convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said on Friday. The bombing is believed to be the single deadliest terror attack in the region's history.
Muneer Ahmed Khan, a senior police officer, said the attack occurred on a key highway on Thursday, as the convoy reached the town of Lethpora on the outskirts of the disputed region's main city, Srinagar. He said one bus was destroyed and at least five other vehicles damaged by the blast.
Sanjay Sharma, a spokesman for India's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, said many of the injured were in critical condition. "The blast was so powerful that one cannot recognize whether the vehicle was a bus or a truck. Just pieces of mangled steel remain of the vehicle," he said.
A paramilitary official said the bus was carrying at least 35 soldiers. Khan said soldiers and counterinsurgency police reinforcements had been deployed in the area.
DW's Delhi correspondent Sonia Phalinkar said Kashmir is a "constant irritant" between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and this attack is a "reminder that the conflict is far from over."
India blames Pakistan
The Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group had claimed responsibility for the attack, local media reported.
India's foreign office described the group as a "Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organisation" and called on the neighboring country to "stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory."
On Friday, Indian officials cited "incontrovertible evidence" that Pakistan had a "direct hand" in the attack and pledged a harsh response.
Taking strong military action "could alienate Kashmir," according to DW's Sonia Phalinkar. However, she said, failure to do anything could have "repercussions at the polls."
Following the attack, India pledged to withdraw the favored-nation trade status they had given to Pakistan and would take also all diplomatic steps "to ensure the complete isolation [of Pakistan] from international community," India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced.
Pakistan dismissed any involvement. "We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations," the foreign ministry said.
Germany, US condemn attack
Germany's Foreign Office responded to the incident, saying: "We condemn terrorism in all its forms. Germany stands by its strategic partner India."
The US White House condemned the attack and urged Pakistan "to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil."
Modi denounces 'dastardly attack'
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi denounced the attack in a Tweet. "I strongly condemn this dastardly attack. The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain," he said.
Kashmir experienced many car bombings from 2000 through 2005, which inflicted high casualties on Indian troops.
Jaish-e-Mohammed conducted the last major car bombing in 2001 near a parliament building in Srinagar. The attack killed 40 people including three suicide bombers.
Pakistan and India each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprisings and the Indian crackdowns since 1989.
dj, amp, av/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)