Blast kills religious leader in Indian Kashmir

AP News
Posted: Apr 08, 2011 10:13 AM
Blast kills religious leader in Indian Kashmir

A blast outside a mosque in the Indian portion of Kashmir on Friday killed a prominent Muslim religious leader and wounded a bystander, police said.

Moulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah, the president of the religious group Jamiat-e-ahle Hadith, was nearing the mosque in Srinagar to lead Friday prayers when the explosion occurred.

"I heard the blast and immediately came out of the mosque to see him (Shah) lying in a pool of blood," said Sajad Ahmed, a resident of the area. "There was a mangled bicycle nearby."

Police believe an explosive was tied to a parked bicycle and triggered by remote control, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

"It seems he (Shah) was the target," Shiv Murari Sahai, an inspector-general of police, told reporters.

Jamiat-e-ahle Hadith has nearly 1 million members in the Indian portion of Kashmir and runs about 600 mosques and religious schools.

He was considered a moderate leader and a close ally of the pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir liberation Front. But he had condemned the common practice of throwing stones at government forces as part of resistance against Indian rule in the region.

He was not liked by rebel groups, and his home was hit by a grenade in 2008, police said.

However, the United Jehad Council, an umbrella organization of more than a dozen rebel groups based in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, condemned Shah's killing and said this was "the handiwork of Indian agencies." The council emailed a statement to the Srinagar-based Kashmir Media Network news agency.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of separatist political and religious groups in the Indian portion of Kashmir, offered condolences for Shah's death and called a general strike for Saturday.

Since 1989, more than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the insurgents, a charge Islamabad denies.

India and Pakistan have recently resumed peace talks that were interrupted by the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.