Nine Hindus killed, 27 wounded in attack

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

NUNWAN, India -- A band of suspected Islamic militants armed with grenades and automatic rifles sneaked into a camp of Hindus making a Himalayan pilgrimage in Kashmir, killing nine and wounding 27 early Tuesday.

It was the sixth attack on the Hindu faithful since the monthlong pilgrimage began. Twenty-four have been killed in all.

Several hours after the pre-dawn assault, the 2,600 pilgrims at the transit camp resumed their three-day march to a Hindu shrine in a cave high in the towering Himalayas.

In other parts of the disputed region, police said four suspected militants and three soldiers were killed in what appeared to be stepped-up attacks by separatist guerrillas. The militants are fighting to make the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir independent or to merge it with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons, have been on a war footing for eight months because of similar attacks. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of backing Islamic guerrillas. Pakistan says it backs the guerrillas only with moral support and diplomacy.

The group of pilgrims who came under attack Tuesday were among more than 125,000 who will make the 33-mile uphill trek to the Amarnath shrine, the cave where a stalagmite is worshipped as an image of the Hindu god Shiva. The camp at Numwan is 55 miles southeast of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's northern Jammu-Kashmir state.

In New Delhi, I.D. Swamy, the junior home minister, implied Pakistan was behind the attack.

"There can be Pakistan's involvement since its policy was to disturb peace in Kashmir. There will be attempts to disturb elections (this fall) in Kashmir," Swamy said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attack, but said Islamabad "rejects with contempt" Swamy's remarks.

Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said a militant group Al-Mansuriya, an offshoot of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, was to blame, though he did not elaborate.

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