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Militants storm Raghunath temple

Paramilitary personnel take position outside the Raghunath temple complex in Jammu on Sunday.  

Jammu Nov. 24. Militants attacked the Raghunath temple here today for the second time in nine months, killing nine persons and injuring forty-two. In the encounter that followed with the security forces, one militant was gunned down ending the siege. A jawan of the Central Reserve Police Force was also killed.

Another terrorist attack was simultaneously launched at the Shivalya Mandir (also known as Panchbakhar mandir), a few hundred metres away from the Raghunath temple. The militants were firing from inside the shrine when reports last came in. Sources said that a curfew would be imposed in the town tomorrow and all educational institutions would remain closed.

The militants targeted devotees at the Raghunath temple as they made their way into the complex by passing the security ring at the gates. They sneaked in much deeper than they had done in March and opened fired indiscriminately. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and most of his Cabinet colleagues reside around 500 metres away from the temple. Initial reports said there were two militants but they could not be confirmed.

The militants hurled grenades in the nearby Hari market to divert the attention of the security forces and gain entry into the temple. A fierce encounter ensued around 7 p.m., with the CRPF, assisted by the State Police, leading the operations. They blocked the three escape routes from the temple. The flush-out operation lasted two hours.

Most of the devotees were locals as the rush of the Vaishno Devi pilgrims has declined in the recent months due to similar terrorist attacks in the vicinity. The telephone lines in some parts of the city snapped after the attack resulting in breakdown of communication.

The militants chose to attack on a Sunday evening when the bazaar is closed. Emotions ran high in the market and huge crowds thronged the near-by streets. Police found it difficult to control the enraged people.

Before the people could gain in strength, another group of militants attacked the Shivalya Mandir. It is possible that they simultaneously entered the temple but opened fire a little later than the attackers did in the Raghunath temple.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, Omar Abdullah, expressed his anguish over the incident. "The new Government should make sure that its polices do not in demoralise the security forces and give an upper hand to the terrorists.'' The Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Shah, also condemned the attack.

PTI reports:

The Deputy Inspector-General, CRPF, S. Stalin, said some people tried to set the body of the militant, killed inside the Ram Lakshmi temple in the Raghunath shrine complex, on fire, but police thwarted the attempt.

With tension running high, the authorities have deployed CRPF and additional police forces in all the sensitive areas.

Angry protesters took out a rally denouncing the PDP-Congress Government, saying that the release of militants and its ``soft policy'' towards them had ``emboldened'' the terrorists.

`PM monitoring situation'

The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, are ``closely monitoring,'' the situation arising out of the terrorist attack, a report from New Delhi said.

Mr. Advani would make a statement on the attack in both Houses of Parliament tomorrow, according to the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Pramod Mahajan. ``Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are in touch with the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir.'' A high-level meeting at Mr. Vajpayee's residence took stock of the situation.