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30 killed in Jammu suicide attack

Army men standing by the bodies of the three militants lying in Army camp near Jammu on Tuesday. — PTI

Army men standing by the bodies of the three militants lying in Army camp near Jammu on Tuesday. — PTI  

KALUCHAK (JAMMU) MAY 14. In a gruesome attack, three members of a suicide squad of terrorists killed 30 persons, including seven bus passengers and 23 others in the family quarters of the Army, near Jammu today. Thirtyfour persons were injured in the attack, and some of them are in a critical condition.

The attack on the bus took place around 5.35 a.m. at Kaluchak on the Jammu-Panthankot National Highway, a few kilometres from the Indo-Pakistan International Border. The three terrorists, who were dressed in Army fatigues, had boarded the bus, bound for Jammu from Kulu in Himachal Pradesh, at Samba, 30 km. from Jammu.

Eyewitnesses, and later the General Officer Commanding, Tiger Division, Mohan Pandey, said that when the bus reached Kaluchak, the terrorists forced the driver to stop and started firing indiscriminately at the passengers. Seven persons, including four men and three women, were killed on the spot.

The terrorists then got down and threw grenades, which exploded near the bus. While fleeing, they also fired at a jeep but the driver sped away.

The terrorists then ran towards the camp of the 196 Artillery unit of the Army — its personnel have been posted at the border — scaled the wall and entered it. A guard challenged them and opened fire. The terrorists lobbed grenades on two vehicles, which caught fire.

In the melee, the terrorists entered the family quarters inside the camp. In the exchange of fire, one terrorist was shot dead. The other two ultras wired the surrounding area with booby traps and entered houses one after the other.

They fired indiscriminately at the inmates, killing 23 persons, including 10 children, eight women and five Armymen. The age of all the children killed ranged from four to 10 years.

Even as reinforcements were rushed to the camp, the terrorists took positions on the roof of the family quarters. An encounter followed for four hours and a fierce exchange of fire took place. At around 10.30 a.m., Army commandos carrying rocket launchers and other sophisticated weapons were called in and they killed the terrorists. The injured were taken to hospital in ambulances.

Panic gripped Jammu city as news of the attack spread. Personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir police were deployed at various places in Jammu, and vehicles entering the city were subjected to checks.

A red alert has been sounded in the Jammu division and the National Highway was closed to civilian traffic for six hours.

The Governor, G.C. Saxena, termed the attack "one of the most gruesome acts on the part of terrorists in the 12-year long turmoil in the State". Addressing a press conference at the Raj Bhavan, he said that the world should know that there was a limit to the patience of the people of the State.

The Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, who was also present, expressed his sympathies to the bereaved families, and in an emotional tone said, "Now the terrorists have not spared even a two-year old child". He refused to answer questions on the strategy to be adopted by the Government to strengthen security in the region.

Immediately after his arrival from New Delhi, Dr. Abdullah attended a meeting at the Raj Bhavan, in which Mr. Saxena and top security officials also took part. Sources said it had been decided to beef up the security in the Jammu region, especially on the National Highway.

Dr. Abdullah and Mr. Saxena also visited the site of the encounter. They also went to the military hospital and enquired about the condition of the injured civilians. They were accompanied by the GoC, 16 Corps, J.V.S. Yadava. The Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party leader, Shabir Shah, also condemned the attack, calling it "a blot on civilised society". He told The Hindu that no cause of the people was served by those who killed innocent women and children.

The State units of the BJP and the Shiv Sena have called for the dismissal of the National Conference Government, alleging that it had failed to take adequate steps to beef up security in the Jammu region and this was responsible for an increase in the number of suicide attacks.

Shujaat Bukhari reports from Srinagar:

A hitherto unknown militant outfit, Al-Mansooreen, has claimed responsibility for the attack. One

Irfan Kashmiri, who identified himself as the spokesman of the outfit, told two local news agencies, NAFA and CNS, that "we own responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by three of our `fidayeen', Abu Mursad, Abu Jaffar and Abu Shail." He said that the organisation would carry out more such attacks in the State.

Officials, however, refused to accept Al-Mansooreen as a new outfit, saying that it could be a new name for either the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The IG, Kashmir zone, Rajindra Kumar, said that going by the modus operandi, "it could be either of them or a blend of the two." Since both outfits were under scrutiny after the September 11 attacks, they might have taken a new name to mislead the world.

Meanwhile, the Jamiatul Mujahideen spokesman, Jameel Ahmed, also claimed responsibility for the attack but refused to give any details.

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