SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Suspected rebels wearing army uniforms stormed an Indian police station in Kashmir, killing a policeman and sparking a four-hour gun battle Friday that left two paramilitary soldiers, two militants and a civilian dead, police said.
At least seven paramilitary officers, two policemen and a second civilian were also wounded in the fighting on the outskirts of Kathua town in the region of Jammu. Indian forces also rescued at least two dozen paramilitary and police officers who had been trapped inside the station, police said.
Indian army and paramilitary soldiers have cordoned off the area near the border between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of the disputed Himalayan region, and traffic on the nearby main highway connecting Jammu region with the rest of country has been suspended.
Inspector-General Danish Rana said at least two militants were involved in the attack. He said they hijacked a car and drove it to the police station, where they forced several civilians to enter in order to gain access to the building. They then killed a police sentry and one of the civilians, and pushed their way into the building.
"Most likely, the militants infiltrated from the Pakistani side overnight," Rana said.
India has long accused Pakistan of supporting the rebels with arms, training and logistical support — a charge Pakistan denies.
The militants who carried out Friday's attack were dressed in army combat uniforms, but it was unclear from which country's army, Police Director-General K. Rajendra said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Several anti-India groups are fighting for Kashmir's independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Indian officials said the attack justified the continuation of a law allowing Indian military and paramilitary soldiers based in Kashmir to shoot-to-kill suspects without prosecution and to arrest suspected militants without a warrant. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act also gives Kashmir-based police wide-ranging powers of search and seizure.
Jitendra Singh, a junior minister in India's prime minister's office, said the attack should "be an eye opener and loud and clear message" to those who want to revoke the law.
Experts and human rights workers argue that the impunity law allows abuses by law enforcement officers and helps to radicalize youths against Indian government control.
Last month, India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party and the regional Peoples Democratic Party formed a coalition government in Kashmir. The two parties disagree strongly on several issues, including the impunity law.
Kashmir has been in conflict for decades, with a violent insurgency erupting in 1989 and leading to a brutal crackdown by Indian forces. An estimated 68,000 people have died in the violence. Although the armed rebellion has been largely suppressed, public resentment against Indian rule remains deep and the resistance is now principally expressed through street protests.