5 soldiers, 2 militants killed in Indian Kashmir

AP News
Posted: Mar 13, 2013 11:31 AM

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Two militants carrying guns and grenades attacked a group of paramilitary soldiers on the outskirts of the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday morning, leaving five soldiers and both militants dead and 10 other people wounded, police said. It was the bloodiest militant attack in the capital in years.

The two militants, who hid their weapons in a sports bag, mixed with a group of boys playing cricket near a school compound for the children of police officials before lobbing grenades at the paramilitary troops, said S.A. Mujtaba, a senior police officer.

No students or teachers were at the school because of ongoing strikes in the wake of the February execution of a Kashmiri militant. Seven of those injured were members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and three were civilians, police said.

Officials said earlier that the attack occurred at a paramilitary camp, which is next to the school. By midday, heavily armed soldiers filled the area, searching for any surviving militants.

Later Wednesday, paramilitary soldiers shot and killed a civilian who they said was part of a group of protesters throwing stones at vehicles taking the injured to a hospital.

Local residents, however, said Altaf Ahmad Wani, 35, was not protesting or throwing rocks at the troops.

Kashmir has been wracked by more than two decades of separatist violence. While militant attacks have decreased dramatically in recent years, Kashmir has faced weeks of protests since the hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru for involvement in a 2001 attack on India's Parliament that killed 14 people, including five of the gunmen. Many Kashmiris do not believe Guru received a fair trial. Anger in the region, where anti-India sentiment runs deep, was further fueled by the execution's secrecy.

No one has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, though suspicion immediately fell on Muslim separatists. Ashok Prasad, a top Kashmir police official, said the style of attack "had the signature" of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Indian federal home secretary R.K. Singh also said the militants appeared to be from Pakistan. He gave no other details.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the "knee-jerk" Indian allegations and warned they could undermine efforts by the two nuclear-armed rivals to normalize relations. It said Pakistan "remains committed to discussing and resolving all outstanding issues with India through a meaningful dialogue."

Indian officials accuse Pakistan's intelligence agency of working with Lashkar-e-Taiba to plan the bloody 2008 Mumbai siege, an allegation Islamabad denies.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was formed with the help of Pakistani intelligence over two decades ago to put pressure on India over Kashmir. Pakistan has since banned the group but has seemingly done little to crack down on the militants. Many analysts believe they still enjoy state support.

The Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in its entirety by both. The insurgents are demanding either a separate state or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.