Thousands of mourners across India attended funerals yesterday for some of the 44 soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir as a round-the-clock curfew remained in force in part of the state.
The paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops were killed on Thursday as explosives packed in a van ripped through a convoy transporting 2,500 soldiers, the deadliest attack in a 30-year-old armed conflict.
TV stations showed coffins wrapped in national flags being carried by thousands of people across their hometowns, after the bodies were flown to New Delhi late Friday for a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India has accused Pakistan of harbouring the militants behind the attack, which has sparked nationwide outrage and some public calls for war against the nuclear-armed neighbour to avenge the killings.
Two buses of the CRPF in the 78-vehicle convoy were targeted by the bomber on a key highway in the Pulwama district, just outside the main city of Srinagar.
The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohamed (JeM) claimed responsibility, and the vehicle was driven by a known local militant.
The powerful blast reduced one of the buses to a heap of mangled debris.
Pictures showed bodies and body parts strewn all over the highway.
“I feel proud of the martyrdom of my son. I expect the government of India to avenge the killings,” Brish Soreng, father of one of the soldiers, told reporters.
Modi yesterday said that those behind the attack would be held responsible.
India is garnering diplomatic support after the attack and has vowed to “isolate” Pakistan diplomatically in the international community, saying it has “incontrovertible evidence” of Islamabad’s role.
Pakistan has rejected the allegations.
Jaish-e-Mohamed is largely considered to be one of the most active Pakistan-based insurgent groups fighting in Kashmir.
Street protests continued yesterday across several cities with demonstrators burning effigies of Pakistani leaders and Muslim cleric Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded Jaish-e-Mohamed.
The shock attack has caused widespread anger across India and a violent backlash against Kashmiris elsewhere in the country.
Mob attacks on Kashmiri students and businessmen have been reported in the northern city of Dehradun, with some fleeing the city.
A curfew remained in place in the Hindu-majority Jammu city after mobs on Friday attacked Kashmiri properties, set fire to vehicles and pelted housing complexes with stones, prompting counter-protests in Srinagar.
At least 12 people were injured in the city, local media reported, and Internet access in the area was suspended.
Angry social media users furiously demanded retribution for Thursday’s attack, while several hawkish TV channels called for all-out war with Pakistan.
The attack has put Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the back foot ahead of national elections due by May.
Modi’s government in recent years has adopted an aggressive posture in Kashmir and shelved dialogue with Pakistan to boost its popularity after accusing the previous government of being soft on militants.
“Revenge is the only word that comes to my Mind,” federal minister Babul Supriyo wrote on Twitter.
A meeting of political parties in New Delhi yesterday extended full support to the government in “fighting terrorism, defending India’s unity and integrity”.
India has stationed some 500,000 troops in Kashmir, making it the most militarised zone in the world, following an armed rebellion that began in 1989.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict with most casualties civilians.
Last year was the deadliest in a decade with almost 600 killed.
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