The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Friday said that militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the killing of three Bharatiya Janata Party members in the Union Territory’s Kulgam district on Thursday, reported PTI. The Resistance Front, believed to be a shadow group of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, had claimed responsibility for the killings.

“The names of LeT militants – a local militant from Dooru, Nisar Khanday; and Abbas from Khudwani who was previously associated with HM (Hizbul Mujahideen) and is now with LeT and also claims to be from TRF [The Resistance Front] – are cropping up,” Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar said. “The involvement of these two is there, but there may be an FT (foreign terrorist) involved as well (in the attack).”

The three BJP members killed on Thursday are Fida Hussain Yatoo, Umer Rashid and Umer Ramzan Hajam.

Kumar said that three militants came in a car belonging to a local militant identified as Altaf. “Fida (Hussain) was with his two colleagues in a car and the militants fired indiscriminately on them from close range,” the police officer said. “They received grave injuries and succumbed on the way to the hospital.”

He said that the assailants fled in the same car towards the Achbal area in Anantnag district and the police seized the vehicle in the morning. The police officer said a forensic science laboratory team has been sent to inspect the car.

He further appealed to the protected persons not to move around without their security. Kumar said that personal security officers have been assigned to about 157 BJP workers, adding that more security may be provided to those with higher threat perception after the due procedure.

Kumar said that Yatoo was one of the 1,619 vulnerable persons who were lodged in secure locations before the Centre’s decision to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. He said that Yatoo had given an undertaking recently and moved out of the hotel where he was kept. “We are investigating what they were doing in a car in an area far away from home,” the police officer said.

He said that it was possible the attack was preplanned. “It seems so to us as well because what were they doing away from home, waiting for someone or not, then militants came, attacked them and then ran away to Achbal,” Kumar said. “There is a chance that it was a pre-planned attack and we are investigating it and will soon solve it.”

Kumar added that such killings were being executed at the behest of Pakistan. “They claimed the attack yesterday on ‘Kashmir Fight’ as well,” he said. “This is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and this proves that these killings take place on the orders from Pakistan.”

He said the police have launched combing operation in seven to eight places in south Kashmir.

Politicians from various parties have condemned the killing. BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda condoled the death of three party members, saying that their sacrifices will not go in vain. He said the death of “such patriots” was a big loss for the country.

Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti also condemned the incident. “Saddened to hear about the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam,” she tweeted. “Condolences to their families. At the end of the day, its people of Jammu and Kashmir who pay with their lives because of Government of India’s ill thought out policies.”

People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration said that political differences cannot justify the use of violence. “Violence has always and will crowd out insanity,” Sajad lone, the spokesperson of the People’s Alliance, said in a statement. “We will always fight aggression in all its forms irrespective of the source of aggression.”

There has been a rise in attacks on BJP leaders and its party workers in the Valley since June, with eight of them killed so far.

On October 6, a party leader was attacked by suspected militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ganderbal area. His personal security officer and a militant died in the firing. In August, suspected militants had killed Abdul Hamid Najar, who was the district president of Budgam BJP Other Backward Class Morcha.

BJP’s district president for Bandipora, Waseem Bari, his father and brother were shot dead by militants in July. A BJP sarpanch was shot at and injured on August 4, while another sarpanch from the party was shot dead two days later in Kulgam district.