The Amarnath pilgrims are guests of the militants and not their targets, a senior Hizbul Mujahideen commander said on Tuesday.
In a video clip circulated through social media, Hizbul’s operational commander Riyaz Naikoo reportedly said: “Amarnath Yatra is not our target. They (pilgrims) come here to perform their religious rituals. They are our guests.”
He also termed as baseless the statement of state police chief who has said militants are planning to attack the Amarnath pilgrims.
“We have never attacked Amarnath pilgrims. We are not at war with the Yatris, we at war with those who forced us to pick up the gun. We are fighting for our rights and our freedom. Our war is against the Indian state and not against the people of India,” said Naikoo in the clip.
On Wednesday, amid tight security, the first batch of nearly 3000 pilgrims left the base camp in Jammu for the annual 60-day pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas.
Advisors to the Governor K Vijay Kumar and B B Vyas flagged off a fleet of 107 vehicles and four motorcycles carrying the pilgrims from the heavily-guarded Bhagwati base camp in the City of Temples around 4.30 am.
They said all necessary arrangements are in place to ensure a peaceful and smooth yatra.
A total of 2,995 pilgrims 2,334 men, 520 women, 21 children and 120 ‘sadhus’ left for the base camps of Nunwan-Pahalgam in Anantnag and Baltal in Ganderbal districts in 107 vehicles and four motorcycles, officials said.
They will reach the twin base camps later in the day and would start their onward journey to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine by foot on Thursday, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage is scheduled to conclude on August 26 coinciding with the ‘Raksha Bandhan’ festival.
(With agency inputs)