SRINAGAR, Kashmir — A vehicle filled with explosives rammed into a convoy of Indian paramilitary forces on a busy highway in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir on Thursday, killing at least 20 soldiers and wounding 40 more, local officials said.
As the death toll continued to tick up Thursday evening, officials said the suicide attack, which ripped apart two buses, could prove to have been the deadliest to hit the disputed territory in 20 years. It happened at about 3:30 p.m. local time.
“I have never heard such a blast in my entire life,” said Qaisar Mir, a resident of Gundipoora, the village in southern Kashmir where the attack took place. “We saw smoke billowing up and then heard cries for help.”
Amjid Bhat, a 27 year-old resident of Gundipoora, said, “It was terrifying to see human flesh on the roadside.”
After the blast Mr. Bhat said he and others ran for their lives thinking Indian soldiers might panic and open fire on anyone nearby.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Army of Muhammad, a militant group that is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States Treasury Department. Although the group is formally banned in Pakistan, it operates and raises funds in the country under different names, Indian and American officials have said in the past.
A video has appeared online featuring a man who claims to be the assailant in the attack and who gives his name as Aadil Ahmad.
“Don’t think that because you have killed some of our commanders that we are finished. We will become your nightmare,” Mr. Ahmad said in the video.
Mr. Ahmad said that he had joined the Army of Muhammad a year ago and that he was from a region of the southern Kashmir valley that has witnessed sporadic violence since Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the charismatic leader of a Kashmiri militant outfit, was killed by the security forces in 2016.
Kashmir, a scenic valley in the Himalayan mountains whose fate was left undecided when the British partitioned India in 1947, has been plagued by violence for decades. Much of the area is controlled by India while Pakistan administers a slightly smaller slice. Bands of militants have been fighting for independence in the disputed region.
A spokesman for the Army of Muhammad, Muhammad Hassan, told local media in a statement that “dozens” of Indian forces’ vehicles were destroyed in the attack and that the people of Kashmir would not give up “despite seeing thousands of dead bodies.”