Policeman dead as militants attack busy Kashmir market


Srinagar: At least one policeman was killed and nine people were injured Wednesday when suspected Islamist guerrillas hurled grenades and opened fire in a busy market in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, police said.

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Lal Chowk, the shopping hub in the centre of Srinagar turned into a war zone when two heavily armed militants, believed to be from a suicide squad, attacked a paramilitary picket when the market was bustling with hundreds of shoppers and routine commuters.

Police said two gunmen took up positions in a city centre hotel that has been surrounded by heavily armed security forces. As panic gripped the area amid bursts of gun fire, civilians were seen ducking and running to safer places when militants showered gun fire at security forces.

Srinagar, an urban hub of the 20-year-old separatist campaign, witnessed the first suicide attack in two years. The last such attack in the city was in November 2007 in which two militants were killed and three soldiers wounded.

A pro-Pakistan militant outfit, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen has owned the responsibility for the attack, which came as the central government was planning a major troop reduction in the troubled Jammu and Kashmir amid steep fall in violence last year.

“Two fidayeen (suicide attackers) of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen have carried out the attack,” a caller identifying himself as Jameel Ahmed, the spokesperson of the outfit, told a Srinagar-based news agency.

Police said the injured included eight civilians and a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper.

“We have evacuated more than 100 civilians from the area,” Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police Farooq Ahmed told IANS.

As it grew dark, the security forces put up floodlights around the Punjab Hotel building where the militants are holed up. The area has been marked off with concertina wires to ensure the guerrillas do not escape under the cover of darkness.

“We are cautious that no collateral damage takes place”, the police officer said.

Police were not sure of any civilian trapped in the hotel building which hindered the prospect of launching the final assault. The militants were using the building as a fortified bunker and firing intermittently at the surrounding security forces.

“The hotel building will have to be stormed by commandoes if the militants refuse to surrender,” said a paramilitary officer.