Thirty seven personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed and five injured after a militant drove an explosive-laden vehicle into a bus in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Thursday.

“Regret to inform that 37 Personnel of CRPF attained martyrdom,” the CRPF confirmed in a late-night statement, adding that 5 injured personnel were being treated at 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar.

This was one of the worst terror strikes in the state since the attack on the Uri military base in September 2016, in which 18 Army jawans had died and dozens were injured. The toll is likely to rise.

Authorities have suspended internet and mobile data services in south Kashmir, while internet speed has been decreased in Srinagar.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed militant outfit claimed responsibility for the attack. Officials said Pulwama-based militant Adil Ahmad, who joined the outfit last year, was the main perpetrator. In a statement, a Jaish spokesperson Muhammad Hassan said the suicide attack had destroyed “dozens of forces’ vehicles”, Rising Kashmir reported.

In a video released after the attack, Adil is seen armed with rifles and standing in front of what appears to be the outfit’s banners, NDTV reported. “After a year’s wait, I have got the chance to do what I joined the Jaish for,” he said in the video. “By the time this video reaches you, I will be in heaven... this is my last message for the people of Kashmir.”

More than 2,500 CRPF personnel were travelling in a convoy of 78 vehicles when they were ambushed at Latoomode in Awantipora on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. Many of the soldiers were returning from leave and rejoining duty in the Valley. The bus that was attacked belonged to the 54th battalion of the CRPF and had 44 personnel on board, said unidentified officials.

The convoy had left Jammu around 3.30 am and was supposed to reach Srinagar before sunset. “It was a large convoy and about 2,500 personnel were travelling in multiple vehicles,” said CRPF Director General RR Bhatnagar. “Some shots were also fired at the convoy.”

CRPF (Operations) Inspector General Zulfiqar Hassan told ANI that the Jammu and Kashmir Police has taken up the investigation. “The injured have been shifted to hospital,” he said. “A post-blast analysis is being done at the spot.”

A 12-member team of the National Investigation Agency, headed by an officer of the rank of inspector general, will reportedly visit the blast site on Friday morning. A forensic team of the central agency will also reach Pulwama on Friday to assist the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

The state police later registered a case. “The officers investigating this terror crime are at work to establish the full circumstances which led to the blast,” ANI quoted an unidentified police officer as saying.

According to local news agencies, a red alert has been issued across Kashmir.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik and will visit Srinagar on Friday. According to the Raj Bhawan Public Relations Officer, Malik has directed all security forces’ commanders to increase surveillance. He has also asked the district and divisional civil and police administration to review the security management of all important installations and establishments in the state.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry issued an advisory for television channels in the wake of the attack. It directed them to be cautious with airing content that may encourage violence or hinder maintenance of law and order or promote “anti-national attitudes”.

‘A gruesome terror attack’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the “despicable and dastardly” attack. “The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,” he tweeted. “The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with the families of the brave martyrs. May the injured recover quickly.” He added that he spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh regarding the situation.

Several other political leaders, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, condemned the attack. “Terrible news coming from the valley,” Abdullah, who is also the chief of the National Conference, tweeted. “I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. My prayers for the injured and condolences to the families of the bereaved.”

Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said in a tweet: “No words are enough to condemn the gruesome terror attack. How many more lives will be snuffed out before this madness ends?”

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