Fidayeen strike in Srinagar after 3 years
Police driver killed, 13 injured as 2 militants hide at hotel in Lalchowk
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR, Jan 6: Striking in this capital city after over three years, suicide militants today took cover at Hotel Punjab in the crowded business hub of Lalchowk after they gunned down the driver of SHO Maisuma and 13 others sustained injuries in the shootout. Police and CRPF have cordoned the area, identified the location of two heavily armed militants and planned to strike on the hotel after all the civilians trapped in the business centre were successfully evacuated.
Informed sources said that a Police party, headed by SHO Maisuma, Inspector Zahoor Ahmed Khan, beckoned two Phiran-clad suspects in their early 20s at a frisking naka at Palladium Cinema in the crowded business centre of Lalchowk at 1410 hours. Rather than advancing to the Police party, both the suspects took out their AK-56 rifles and began spraying bullets on the target from a short distance of seven to ten metres.
Follower Mohammad Yusuf, a resident of Goripora (Hyderpora) who had been working as driver with SHO Maisuma, died on the spot. Thirteen others, including a CRPF personnel, sustained injuries in the shootout and the resultant encounter even as both the militants succeeded in crossing over to other side of Lalchowk and took positions inside Hotel Punjab on the take-off point of Court Road. Eyewitnesses said that some men of the Police party chased the militants but failed to strike on them for fear of civilian casualties until the duo took shelter inside the hotel.
District Police Srinagar, alongwith CRPF 132 Bn, laid siege to the hotel building, evacuated hundreds of civilians, including shopkeepers, traders, shoppers and government employees, and began planning for a major strike on the hotel building while continuing the cordon overnight. Senior Police and CRPF officials are camping in Lalchowk as the security forces have sealed off all incoming and outgoing routes.
IGP Kashmir, Farooq Ahmed, told Early Times from the spot at around midnight that Police and CRPF had succeeded in evacuating all the civilians who had got trapped at Hotel Punjab and many other structures in Lalchowk and Court Road. He said that Police or any other security agency had not received any distress call or SOS from anybody trapped in the area which, according to him, was an indication that nobody other than the two militants was holed up after this evening. He said that in identical situations in the past, Police had received distress calls from different states as the family members of the holed up tourists used to inform the authorities regarding the presence of their relatives.
IGP said that Police and CRPF would launch a decisive strike on the identified hotel structure in order to get the holed up militants dead or alive. He said that two different outfits had claimed responsibility for the Fidayeen strike but Police had substantial reasons to believe that both the militants belonged to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Local news agency, Kashmir News Service, reported that two different callers, claiming to be spokespersons of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen informed it over telephone, one after another, that militants of their organizations had carried out the strike on Lalchowk.
Sources said that in all 13 persons reported for medical treatment at different hospitals in Srinagar after sustaining gunshot and splinter injuries. Officials and eyewitnesses said that after spraying bullets on their target, both the militants lobbed at least three grenades before taking shelter inside the hotel building.
By late tonight, nine of the injured civilians had been discharged from hospital. Officials said that two of the critically injured civilians, namely Mohammad Akbar Lone of Tangmarg and Wahid Zahoor of Mustafa Nagar Zainakoot, were under treatment at SMHS Hospital and a CRPF personnel was under observation after a surgery at MI Room of the same hospital. One more civilian, identified as Riyaz Ahmed Malik of Barsoo, Awantipore, was admitted at Bone & Joint Hospital, Barzalla.
IGP Farooq said that Police and security forces were already on high alert as they had received inputs that militants could cause a car blast anywhere in the capital city. Checking of vehicles and frisking of passengers and pedestrians had been accordingly intensified since Sunday last.
After a series of strikes, including killing of four CRPF personnel, in Sopore area last month, militants have launched this kind of a suicide strike in this capital city after over three years. In late 2006, militants had engaged in the last fidayeen attack in Budshah Chowk- Lal Chowk area as nearly a dozen personnel, civilians and three militants had got killed in the encounter at Standard and Taj hotels. It is also for the first time since Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took over the reigns of his coalition government on January 5th, 2008, that militants have carried out a major fidayeen attack in Jammu & Kashmir.