Grenade attack kills 3 at prayer meet in Amritsar, police consider terror angle
Motorcycle-borne assailants target Nilankari meet in Amritsar
Two men on a motorcycle barged into a prayer hall near Amritsar and threw a grenade at a religious gathering on Sunday, killing three people including a preacher and injuring at least 20 in a suspected terror attack, police in Punjab said.
Around 11.30am, the masked men targeted a gathering of the Nirankari sect in Rajasansi area, which is about 15km from central Amritsar and close to an international airport. At least 200 people were at the prayer hall for a weekly religious meeting.
“We are considering it as a terror act. This incident is against a group, and not an individual,” said Punjab director general of police Suresh Arora, who rushed to the spot with senior officials.
Punjab is on an alert after inputs that a group of six to seven terrorists of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed was reportedly camping in the state. Last week, four people snatched an SUV from its driver at gunpoint near Madhopur in Pathankot district.
In 2016, a group of terrorists stole a car belonging to a Punjab police official before launching a deadly attack that killed seven soldiers in the state’s Pathankot air base.
Chief minister Amarinder Singh condemned the attack and announced a compensation of Rs 500,000 each to the families of the victims. “I appeal to the people of Punjab to maintain peace in wake of Amritsar bomb blast...We will not let the forces of terror destroy our hard earned peace,” he said on Twitter.
Singh also said the possibility of the involvement of ‘Khalistanis’ (Sikh separatists) or Kashmiri groups backed by Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) could not be ruled out.
A team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) rushed to the site as part of the agency’s standard operating procedure under which it tracks all terror-related cases, said home ministry officials. Punjab is expected to send a report to the ministry, which will then take a call on whether the case has to be handed over to NIA.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to the chief minister and assured “strong action” against those responsible for the attack.
The attack on the gathering of the Nirankari sect, whose members are considered heretics by some Sikh traditionalists, sounded a fresh alarm across the border state ahead of Friday’s birthday celebrations of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru.
The Nirankari sect, with headquarters in Delhi, has millions of followers across the country and abroad. Delhi Police declared a high alert after the grenade attack, and security around a Nirankari establishment in north Delhi’s Burari was stepped up. “Being the national capital, Delhi remains on alert throughout the year. We have, however, intensified our security apparatus to ensure no untoward incidents take place in the city...,” Delhi Police spokesperson Madhur Verma said.
Initial investigations into Sunday’s attack found that two men — their faces covered — forced their way into the building by brandishing a pistol, CM Singh said. One of them overpowered the guard at the gate and lobbed the grenade into the prayer room. Then, they fled on their motorcycle.
Sukhdev Kumar, 58, a preacher of the sect’s Rajasansi unit; Kuldeep Singh, 40, and Sandeep Singh, 17, died in the explosion. All of them were residents of nearby villages. Those wounded are undergoing treatment in two hospitals in Amritsar.
“The people had gathered for prayers. There were around 200 people. Preliminary reports suggest that the two persons threw one grenade...No firing took place,” Punjab police inspector general (border range) SPS Parmar said, adding that no CCTV camera was installed at the prayer hall.