Suspected militants storm Kashmir camp

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

JAMMU, India -- Three suspected Islamic guerrillas attacked an army camp in Indian-held Kashmir on Tuesday, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding more than a dozen others before being slain themselves, police said.

Throwing hand grenades and firing wildly, the gunmen burst into the camp at Tanda, near the cease-fire line that divides the region between India and Pakistan, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

Two guerrillas were killed in the attack. A third was found trying to escape into a nearby forest and was shot to death after he hurled a grenade at soldiers, wounding five, the officer said.

A senior officer was among the soldiers killed, army officials said. The army surrounded the camp area and continued searching for more militants.

Police blamed the attack on Pakistan-based rebel groups fighting to merge Kashmir with that Islamic nation or make it independent.

An Indian news agency said it received a handwritten statement by fax claiming responsibility for the army camp attack on behalf of a previously unknown group, Al Shuhda Brigade. The statement received by Press Trust of India said the attack was a protest against a visiting Pakistani Islamic leader's statements that the dispute over Kashmir should be resolved peacefully between India and Pakistan.

The Islamic leader, pro-Taliban politician Maulana Fazl-ur Rahman, discussed peace with Hindu nationalist leaders a day earlier.

The attack came only hours after two grenade blasts by suspected guerrillas killed seven pilgrims and wounded 25 on their way to a Hindu shrine in India's Jammu-Kashmir state on Monday. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the pilgrims. Militant groups maintain that they do not target civilians.

In New Delhi, the government called the attack on pilgrims an attempt to disrupt efforts by India and Pakistan to restart talks about their disputes, including Jammu-Kashmir, the Himalayan region that both claim in its entirety.

"Their intention is to break the normalcy that is being restored in Jammu-Kashmir," Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani told Parliament.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered in April to restart the peace process that was halted with a December 2001 militant attack on the Indian Parliament. The two countries have resumed a bus service between them, restored their ambassadors and agreed their leaders will attend a South Asian nations' summit in January.

Tanda, the scene of Tuesday's guerrilla assault, is 25 miles north of Jammu, winter capital of the state.

The police officer said four soldiers were killed and nine wounded in the two-hour gunfight, which ensued after the rebels entered the camp housing an army engineering unit. Three of the wounded soldiers later died.

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting in Jammu-Kashmir since 1989.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and aiding the militants. Pakistan denies assisting the insurgents, but says it supports them diplomatically.

The South Asian nuclear rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

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