23-hour Srinagar siege ends, Pakistani among two terrorists killed

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 07, 2010 14:00 hrs

A 23-hour terror siege that left Lal Chowk, the bustling centre of Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, looking like an abandoned battlefield ended Thursday noon with two holed up guerrillas, including a Pakistani, of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) being killed.

'The operation is over. Two LeT militants have been killed,' Jammu and Kashmir's police chief Kuldeep Khoda told reporters near the shootout site in Lal Chowk, the downtown business hub of Srinagar.

'We had inputs that the LeT was planning an attack in Srinagar. There is a desperation on part of Pakistan-based elements. They wanted to target not only Srinagar but any part of India and Srinagar is their prime target,' Khoda said.

The other slain militant belonged to north Kashmir Sopore town, according to police.

A civilian and a policemen were also killed and 10 people, including two paramilitary troopers, were wounded in the fidayeen attack that came amid official claims of steep fall in violence. According to home ministry figures, there has been a 25 percent drop in terrorist violence.

Heavy firing at break of dawn had broken the brief lull and security forces resumed their operation against the guerrillas who had been holed up inside the Punjab Hotel since 1.30 p.m. Wednesday.

The hotel building caught fire, the half-burnt building leaving another scar of the 20-year-old militancy at the city centre that has many a times faced the brunt of violence.

The area continued to be out bounds for people with security forces conducting mopping up operations to find if the militants had left behind any unexploded grenades or RDX.

Other signs of the battle that had been were strewn around. Dozens of private vehicles and two-wheelers abandoned by the fleeing owners Wednesday were lying unclaimed on the roads dotted by armed security personnel.

Residents living around Lal Chowk were left shaken even though gunfights in the wake of the long insurgency are nothing new.

'I was awake with my family. Intermittent gunshots continued throughout the night. At dawn there was heavy firing and also some explosions those shook my house,' said a frightened Javaid Ahmad, 48, who lives adjacent to Lal Chowk.

The rest of Srinagar, the urban hub of a 20-year-old separatist campaign, also remained tense. Life had been paralysed since Wednesday afternoon with the main thoroughfare cut off.

The guerrillas had hurled grenades and opened indiscriminate firing when the market was bustling with hundreds of shoppers and routine commuters.

Police rescued nearly 100 civilians in the area Wednesday and more were evacuated from the nearby building Thursday morning before launching a final assault.

This was the first suicide attack in two years. The last such strike in the city was in October 2007 in which two militants were killed and three soldiers wounded.

People were worried that the attack may damage Kashmir's image as a tourist spot.

'It is definitely not a good omen for the new year. Some tourists had started coming here even during the winter months,' said Bashir Ahmad, 49, a shopkeeper.

The pro-Pakistan Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attack Wednesday. But it appears that the militants were part of a joint squad of the guerrilla outfits which have been conducting coordinated strikes in Jammu and Kashmir during the past years, old timers say.

Given the resilience of the local people who have lived life on the razor's edge for over two decades, life here could be normal tomorrow but the fear of a lurking guerrilla strike persists.

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