Survivors of pilgrim bus attack in India played dead to escape gunmen

Wreckage of the bus attacked by gunmen in Reasi, India, on 10 June 2024 (AP)
Wreckage of the bus attacked by gunmen in Reasi, India, on 10 June 2024 (AP)

Hindu pilgrims from the bus that was attacked by suspected militants in Jammu and Kashmir have recounted their horrifying ordeal, including how they played dead to escape the gunmen.

The vehicle was taking the pilgrims to the popular Himalayan shrine of Vaishno Devi when it was attacked in Reasi district by gunmen hiding in the wooded hills overlooking the road.

The driver lost control and the bus fell into a deep gorge, killing at least nine passengers and injuring 41.

The gunmen escaped but Indian security forces have launched a manhunt in the mountainous area. There were three gunmen, police said, and possibly a lookout.

Five of the nine persons killed sustained gunshot wounds as did 10 of the injured.

“We lay on the ground without making a movement. We pretended to be dead until the militants left,” one of the survivors, Devi Prasad, a private school teacher from Gonda in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, told The Indian Express.

He said the gunmen continued shooting for about five minutes even after the bus rolled down into the gorge.

“On seeing the militant the first thing that struck my mind was that we won’t survive,” Santosh Kumar Verma, from Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur, said.

“Before I could think any further, I saw the driver’s head falling on the steering wheel, and the bus falling into the gorge.”

Rajat Ram Verma recalled pushing his wife and teenage son under the seat as soon as the firing started. “But the bus fell down into the gorge and I lost my grip on my son,” he said. “Later when I enquired about him, my wife told me that he was no more.”

Bhawani Shankar, from Tughlakabad in the capital Delhi, was on the bus with his wife, five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. “I bent down and hid my two children under the seat as bullets were being fired from hills,” he told The Hindu newspaper. “I will never forget those 20-25 minutes of horror.”

The Resistance Front, a shadowy group allegedly associated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organisation, claimed responsibility for the attack but quickly retracted.

Manoj Sinha, central administrator of Jammu and Kashmir, said the attack was an attempt to incite unrest in the region.

Amit Shah, the federal home minister, said he had spoken to Mr Sinha and the police chief about the attack. “The culprits of this dastardly attack will not be spared and will face the wrath of the law,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi, politician from the opposition Congress Party, said the attack reflected “the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir”.

According to The Indian Express, Reasi, along with the neighbouring districts of Rajouri and Poonch, were a hotbed of the armed struggle against India’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir from late 1990s to early 2000s, but grew relatively calm over the next two decades.

In the last few years, however, Rajouri and Poonch have seen a resurgence in militant activity, with 38 Indian soldiers and 11 civilians losing their lives to violence. At least three militant groups currently operate in Reasi, Udhampur, Poonch, and Rajouri, sources in the security forces told NDTV.