A group of terrorists surrounded a bus with 61 Amarnath pilgrims on Monday and started firing indiscriminately. The bus driver Sheikh Saleem Gafoor Bhai from Gujarat kept driving. He drove one through the hail of bullets and didn’t stop until he spotted an army camp.
Sometime after 8:30 pm on Monday, as soon as Salim Sheikh heard a hail of bullets on the side of the bus, the driver Salim decided on the spur of the moment that the safest and the most prudent thing to do is to drive on and not let any more bullets in.
“God gave me the 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 Saleem, who is being held up by many as an example of humanity beyond religion. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Monday acknowledged Salim’s role and said he would nominate him for a bravery award. “I want to thank the bus driver for saving the lives of people even when there was firing going on. I will nominate his name for a bravery award,” he said.
The J&K Government has announced an award of Rs 3 lakhs to Salim for his exemplary bravery
Seven pilgrims returning from the Amarnath shrine were killed and 20 wounded in the terror attack in Anantnag, one of the worst in the Kashmir Valley in recent years. Pilgrims on the bus are from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
If Saleem had stopped the bus there, more lives would have been lost. “My driver was so brave…he drove on,” said an injured woman at the Anantnag district hospital. “There was firing from all three sides. Our driver managed to take the bus a few km ahead. He saved us,” said another injured pilgrim.
Javed Mirza, bus driver Saleem’s cousin, said that he received a call from him around 9:30 PM informing about the attack. “He called me up around 9:30 PM informing about firing on the vehicle. He told me that he did not stop there when terrorists fired and only looked for a safer spot for pilgrims. He couldn’t save seven lives but managed to move 50 people to a safe place. I am proud of him,” Javed said.
According to the Kashmir police, the attackers were Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. They had fired at an armored police car and a security check-post before surrounding the pilgrims’ bus on three sides and firing. The bus was not meant to be on the highway after 5 pm, given security restrictions, but it was delayed by more than two hours, reportedly because of a flat tyre.
The bus, GJ 09 Z 9976, which was registered in Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district, violated security protocol and was ferrying pilgrims without a police escort on highway after 7 PM, said the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a statement.