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Homeland Security

22 hours long Kashmir battle ends: Report

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Srinagar, India, Jan 8, IRNA -- In a joint operation police commandos backed by paramilitary central forces finally killed two local militants after mounting an assault on a hotel building in the heart of the capital, ending the 22-hour long standoff.

Troopers stormed the hotel after spending the night battling the militants who had paralyzed the nerve center of Srinagar since their dramatic attack on Wednesday afternoon, the first in three years.

"The encounter is over. Two terrorists of the Lashker-e-Tayyaba, including a Pakistani national, have been killed," the director general of the police, Kuldeep Khoda, told reporters at the scene of the battle.

The Pakistani militant was identified by security agencies through wireless intercepts as Abu Qari while the other was named as Manzoor Ahmad, alias Mustafa, from Sopore.

But according to the senior superintendent of the police for Srinagar, Javed Reyaz Bedar, both slain militants were locals, hailing from Seer Jagir village of northern township of Sopore, and their bodies had been kept at the police control room where they had been identified by their kin.

The police officer said that the slain militants were Manzoor Ahmad Bhat and Aashiq Hussian Ganai both from Seer Jagir Sopore.

A heavy exchange of gunfire had broken out at dawn, and continued for nearly five hours, after which flames leapt out of the hotel roof, prompting the troopers to storm inside after the blaze had been quenched.

While a police driver Mohd Yusuf was killed Thursday in the initial stages of the militant attack, an injured civilian identified as Mohammad Akbar Lone succumbed to his wounds Friday.

Khoda said one militant was killed when the operation was resumed at 0700 hrs this morning after it was suspended last night. The other militant was shot dead around noon.

The DGP said concerted efforts were being made by Pakistani terrorists to hit targets in J&K and in other parts of the country. "There is desperation in infiltration, there is desperation in carrying out such attacks".

Khoda said the militants probably had some other target to attack, "but because of the encounter, they rushed into the hotel and took positions there to open fire at the police".

The ultras first lobbed grenades and opened fire at a CRPF picket outside Palladium Cinema in Lal Chowk before taking shelter inside the hotel.

Inspector General of CRPF N C Asthana said the militants always had the element of surprise when they carry out such attacks. The security forces were fully alert and determined to foil such attempts.

Describing the Lal Chowk operation as a success, he said "We handled the situation extremely professionally. We did not cause any collateral damage at all. We were able to evacuate all the civilians".

The IGP said the operation to flush out the militants from the hotel was prolonged as hundreds of civilians were inside shops and buildings in Lal Chowk.

The hotel caught fire as the security forces inched closer to the militants holed up on the top floor of the five-storey building.

"The militants set the hotel ablaze to divert the attention of the security forces and even targeted the fire brigade vehicles to prevent them from dousing it," he said.

"We moved cautiously to ensure all the trapped civilians are rescued and we succeeded in our mission before eliminating the terrorists," he said.

As part of operational strategy, police and CRPF cordoned off Lal Chowk this morning and did not allow private vehicles to enter the area. All roads leading to Lal Chowk were sealed.

Security was beefed up around Hari Singh High Street, Jehangir Chowk, Tourist Reception Centre and Maulana Azad road. All shops and business establishments in the areas remained closed for the second day today.

The Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) had claimed responsibility for the attack but the security forces said this was clearly the handiwork of the Pakistan-based LeT.

The JuM claimed that there was a third militant, Abdul Karim, who had managed to flee from the area.

The attack comes barely a week after Khoda said there was a drop of 25 per cent in terrorist violence and that no suicide attack had taken place during the last two years.

Militants had carried attacks on specified targets in the outskirts of city which included an attack on pro-dialogue separatist leader Fazl-Haq Qureshi and attacking two BSF personnel at Soura locality of the city on January two.

The last suicide attack was carried out by militants in Dal Lake area of Srinagar in October 2007 in which two ultras were killed and three security men injured.

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End News / IRNA / News Code 884444



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