SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A group of rebels fighting Indian rule stormed a paramilitary camp near the airport in disputed Kashmir early Tuesday, in a brazen attack targeting one of the region's most strategic and well-guarded zones that left at least four dead.
Police said the militants breached multiple layers of high security outside and inside the camp while exchanging intense gunfire with government forces for nearly nine hours.
At least three suspected militants and one border guard officer were killed, police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan told reporters in Srinagar, the region's main city.
At least three soldiers were injured, police said.
The rebels, dressed in military uniforms, began the attack by hurling grenades and spraying automatic gunfire at the camp, which houses a battalion of India's Border Security Force, police said. Nearby residents said they heard dozens of blasts and gunfire.
Previously, the camp served as one of several notorious interrogation centers where authorities detained, questioned and allegedly tortured suspected rebels and their sympathizers. The camp sits on a plateau next to Srinagar's main airport, separated only by barbed wire.
Officials said the airport, which is run and controlled by the military, was safe. Still, authorities suspended flights for about four hours before resuming operations around noon. At least one early morning flight from New Delhi was canceled and three others delayed.
Counterinsurgency police and paramilitary commandos rushed to the scene and armored vehicles dotted the road leading to the airport.
One militant was killed in the initial firing, a police officer said. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy, said two other militants were killed inside the main building of the camp where they had taken refuge and were firing out at the soldiers.
Many top former bureaucrats, police officials and politicians have residences in the area.
India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh complimented the soldiers, saying in New Delhi that "it was a good operation that they have conducted," the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Officer Khan said the militants entered the camp after they cut barbed wire, and blamed the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group for the attack. However, no anti-India rebel group immediately commented on the fighting.
Most attacks target military and paramilitary convoys or police outposts, but rebels have staged similar attacks in recent months, including one attack in August in which four police officials, four paramilitary soldiers and two suspected militants were killed after rebels stormed a police camp, triggering daylong fighting.
Last year, the rebels mounted their deadliest attack on a military base in recent years after militants sneaked into a crucial Indian military base and killed at least 19 soldiers. The four attackers were also killed. India later retaliated, saying its special forces conducted a "surgical strike" against militants inside the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir. Islamabad rejected the Indian account, saying it was routine cross-border fire.
Since then, the nuclear-armed rivals have engaged in regular firing along their de facto frontier.
Anti-India rebels in Muslim-majority Kashmir have been fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan since 1989, with the violence and subsequent Indian military crackdown claiming at least 70,000 lives since then.
The region is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming the territory in its entirety. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, and most people support the rebels' cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.