At least seven Hindus have died in reported crossfire between Indian forces and suspected militants in New Delhi-controlled Kashmir amid tensions in the disputed Himalayan region.
Police said on Monday that those killed were Hindu pilgrims on a bus returning from the Amarnath shrine deep in the Himalayas.
The bus was caught up in the firefight, which broke out when the militants attacked a police bunker and another police party at a checkpoint in Anantnag town, according to the report.
A dozen more passengers were also wounded in the crossfire.
The attack is likely to trigger hardline Hindu groups tied to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party to demand tougher actions against the militants fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
New Delhi has already deployed hundreds of thousands of Indian troops to the region to enforce a harsh security crackdown on the people in the disputed region.
The Amarnath cave, located high in the Himalya mountains in Lidder Valley is a pilgrimage site visited by Hindus, annually.
Modi, a staunch Hindu himself, was quick to condemn the death and injury of the Hindus in the incident.
“The attack deserves strongest condemnation from everyone,” Modi tweeted, adding that he has spoken to the governor and chief minister of the Indian-administrated region of Kashmir to assure them “all possible help.”
Both India and Pakistan claim the Kashmir region in entirety and have fought three wars over the region.
The mountainous area is home to dozens of armed groups fighting for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.
India accuses neighboring Pakistan of funding and training militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir to carry out armed attacks, a charge denied by Islamabad.
Indian-ruled Kashmir has seen a sharp hike in anti-India protest rallies since government forces shot and killed Burhan Wani, a popular Kashmiri militant commander, a year ago.
Over the weekend, Kashmiris marked the anniversary of Wani’s death with angry protests against the Indian government amid tight security.