Wednesday, July 12, 2017
'I Saw My Passengers Drenched In Blood, Many Were Weeping': Bus Driver Salim Sheikh Who Powered Through A Hail Of Bullets 'Showed Exemplary Courage'
As the bullets rained down on his bus Salim Sheikh kept driving through the darkness.
His courage under fire saved the lives of dozens of his pilgrim passengers during a terrorist attack in Kashmir and has drawn widespread admiration.
The Jammu and Kashmir government and Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) separately announced rewards totalling Rs 5 lakh while Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani has said he would recommend Salim's name for a bravery award.
The driver of the bus belonging to Om Travels from south Gujarat's Valsad town which was carrying 51 pilgrims, showed grit and determination and kept going through a hail of bullets only to stop after reaching a military camp some two kilometres away, said an injured survivor.
Seven of the passengers were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the attack.
'God gave me strength to keep moving, and I just did not stop. The firing went on and on, so I didn't stop. I kept driving,' said Salim.
The vehicle was attacked by terrorists at around 8.20pm near Khanabal in Kashmir's Anantnag district when it was on its way from Srinagar to Jammu, police said.
An injured female survivor said the bus was fired at from all sides but the brave driver continued to drive.
As Salim ducked to save himself, three bullets hit the bus owner, Harsh Desai, who was sitting by his side. Though Desai fell down, Salim, undeterred, kept on driving the vehicle.
'When I finally stopped the bus and stood up and I saw my passengers drenched in blood; many were injured and were weeping,' said Salim.
The attackers are believed to be Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. 'As we were on the way, we heard the sound of bullets like someone was bursting crackers.
As we realised it was a terrorist attack, I asked Sheikh to keep driving until we reach a military camp. He kept on driving for two kilometres and stopped only after reaching the military camp,' Desai told INNLIVE.
'We kept on taking the bus forward amidst the heavy firing. We were able to save many lives.' The bus was not meant to be on the highway after 5 pm, given security restrictions, but it was reportedly delayed by more than two hours because of a flat tyre.
'I salute Salim Sheikh and Harsh Desai as I have learnt that they showed exemplary courage by driving the bus for almost 2 km despite heavy firing by terrorists.
'I would like to thank them for the way they saved the lives of pilgrims by driving the bus without stopping amidst the firing. Had they stopped there, many more might have been killed,' Rupani said.
The chief minister also had a brief talk with Desai and Sheikh.
'We got late in the night when we were returning from Amarnath and were attacked. That was a horrific scene which I will not be able to forget,' said an elderly woman who survived the attack.
The bodies of the seven pilgrims killed were brought to Surat airport along with the injured people and their family members in an IAF plane.
Was the bus the real target?
Was the bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims the main target in Anantnag or was the attack incidental?
Security agencies are wading through a bewildering maze of clues. Seven pilgrims, including five women, were killed and 19 others injured when terrorists opened fire at a bus carrying Amarnath yatris on Monday.
The attack on the bus - one of the worst in several years - lasted for a few seconds only, senior officials associated with the investigations told INNLIVE.
A police post in the area was attacked by the terrorists earlier. However, security personnel posted there resorted to heavy retaliation.
'The ill-fated bus stopped en route because of a flat tyre,' a senior official said.
'We are trying to establish whether the bus carrying the pilgrims was being tracked and attacked.'
'It is possible the terrorists did choose to target a lone bus travelling without protection,' the official added.
The bus wasn't supposed to be travelling through the highway after sunset. Pilgrims are shepherded with at least two layers of security; a road opening party that guards accesses to the highways and an escort.
According to the sequence of events pieced together by the police, the bus was attacked once again near a petrol pump a few kilometres from where it broke down.
Security agencies are examining why a single bus moving along the highway after security cover was withdrawn was not noticed at several police checkposts. The terrorists -most likely a group of five - had divided themselves into two groups and attacked the bus from both sides, initial investigations suggest.
One of the Amarnath pilgrims, injured in the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir
About 100 empty bullet shells have been recovered from the site of the attack. The driver of the bus 0 Salim Sheikh Gafoor - kept driving despite being fired from both sides till be he spotted an army installation.
His presence of mind saved the lives of several pilgrims, most of whom were from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Jammu & Kashmir Police and security agencies believe the attack was the handiwork of Abu Ismail - a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist of Pakistani nationality, who had infiltrated into India last year after Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Buran Wani was killed in an encounter.
Ismail is based in Pampore - a few kilometres away from Srinagar - and had a close shave when he was nearly trapped by the Indian Army in an operation.
For once, there was clear intelligence to suggest that the Amarnath Yatra would be a target. About 90,000 troops comprising seven battalions of the the Indian Army, about 400 companies of central paramilitary Forces and Jammu & Kashmir Police were deployed from Lakhanpur in Jammu to the holy shrine to prevent any attack.
The deployment of security forces was reviewed on Tuesday in a meeting chaired by Home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi. Two additional battalions of CRPF will also be deployed.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who rushed to the Valley on Tuesday, reviewed counterinsurgency operations. Sources said operations will be intensified in areas such as Anantnag, Pulwama and Srinagar.
Posted by Ahssan Innlive