SRINAGAR - Three days ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the disputed Kashmir region, a group of gunmen stormed an army base in a northern border town killing eleven military and police personnel. Eight militants also died in the clash.
At least eight Indian army troops including a lieutenant colonel and a junior commanding officer and three policemen were killed after a group of six attackers carried out a fidayeen attack on 31-Field Regiment in Mohura area in Uri of Baramulla district in north Kashmir at about 3:30am. The region borders the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The militants in the pre-dawn hours attacked the main gate of the army base with several grenade and intense gunfire. Sources in government forces said that four army troopers were killed in the initial attack . “The sentries on duty heard the gunshots and challenged the rebels who were armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades,” said a senior officer of the police’s counter-insurgency group.
The sound of blasts and gunfire created panic and local police rushed to the spot but also came under a barrage of gunfire and grenades from the ultras. Two policemen died in the attack while a police officer suffered critical injuries and was airlifted to a hospital where he passed away.
The three policemen who were killed were identified as Assistant Sub Inspector Muhammad Akbar, constable Sanjay Kumar and head constable Abdul Majid. A senior Indian army officer who commanded the operation said they had launched a combing operation in and around the camp to flush out the remaining militants if there were any.
Many army soldiers received burn injuries after they got trapped in a barrack that caught fire due to militant attack . The troopers from the neighbouring camps immediately mobilised their Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs), which rushed to spot.
“But the way these ultras, believed to be from Pakistan, killed four security personnel on the road outside our Army camp makes us believe that they entered the camp from the gate through the road which is not made of concrete boundary," the senior army officer said.
“The encounter between the Army and the group of militants lasted for six hours. During the initial part of the Operation, one militant opened fire on the vehicles of the QRT of the neighbouring unit rushing to the site, in which one gypsy skidded off the road and overturned, leading to casualties among the security forces. The militant was immediately killed by the troops of the QRT and his body was recovered,” a defence spokesperson said.
However a police official told Kashmir Dispatch that "QRTs were rushed to the site after the militants attacked the camp. The militants opened fire at one of the QRT vehicles on the main road, killing an officer and two soldiers," a police officer said. "Lt Colonel Sankalp Kumar of 24 Punjab Regiment of Raipur was also killed in the exchange of fire besides three other soldiers who were part of QRT," sources said.
In reaction, Modi tweeted that the attacks were "desperate attempts to derail the atmosphere of hope and goodwill as seen by increased voter turnout".
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh lashed out at Islamabad for giving refuge to terrorists and said that Pakistan should stop terrorist activities directed against India. The minister also said that in case Pakistan is unable to stop terrorists, then India is willing to help.
"Pakistan should take an initiative to stop all this, if they can't stop, then they should talk to India about it. India is willing to help them," Singh told the media after attacks in several areas of poll-bound Jammu and Kashmir. "Why is it that people who indulge in terror activities hide in Pakistan? Shouldn't Pakistan answer this?" he asked.
A senior counter-insurgency police officer told Kashmir Dispatch that the group may have recently crossed over to this side of Kashmir and divided themselves into two groups. “While one group entered the Army camp, other engaged the troops at the gate,” he said. "The infiltrators used small arms and followed it with UBGL fire," an Army officer said.
Army said that six AK rifles with 55 Magazines, two shotguns, 2 Night Vision Binoculars, 4 Radio Sets, 32 unused Grenades, 1 Medical Kit and a large quantity of miscellaneous warlike stores were recovered from the slain militants.
Police have already intensified random search of vehicles following intelligence inputs that militants might carry out a suicide attack in the city ahead of the elections and the scheduled rally of the prime minister on Monday.
Modi is to address an election rally in Srinagar Monday. The state is in the midst of the five-phase assembly elections, with the next phase scheduled for Dec 9. The polls began Nov 25 and end Dec 20, with the vote count to be held Dec 23.
The initial two rounds of balloting in the violence-ridden state have seen heavy voter turnout, which has been described as a victory for democracy and the people's answer to militants' bullets. The terrorists have struck four days ahead of the third round of voting.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the terror attacks Friday "once again show the desperate levels militants will go to disrupt peace and normalcy". He described it as "a terrible day" and said in a tweet: "Four attacks and a number of deaths - security forces & innocent civilians killed in the valley today."