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Six killed in Srinagar car-bomb blast

A truck which bore the brunt of a car-bomb blast near Srinagar on Saturday.

A truck which bore the brunt of a car-bomb blast near Srinagar on Saturday.  

SRINAGAR SEPT. 6. A massive car-bomb explosion at the Parimpora fruit and vegetable market in suburban Srinagar this morning claimed the lives of six civilians. Eighteen persons, including the head of the prestigious Gulmarg-based High Altitude Warfare School, Brigadier S.C. Chopra, were injured.

The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen later claimed responsibility for the attack, which forms part of the terror offensive that commenced after the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir.

According to eyewitnesses, the bomb was in a car parked on the Baramulla-Srinagar-Jammu highway adjoining the busy fruit and vegetable market. The driver was seen walking away minutes before the blast around 9.30 a.m. "It seems likely the explosive was placed under the front seat," said Ramesh Jalla, the Superintendent of Police in charge of southern Srinagar, "and it was probably fabricated using RDX."

Experts believe that the bomb was detonated by remote control, and was intended to target a military convoy passing along the highway. It is possible that the explosion was timed to coincide with the passage of Brig. Chopra's vehicle, which could be easily identified since it bore the one-star insignia denoting his rank. Apart from Brig. Chopra, who till recently served as India's military attach� in London, a captain and two jawans were reported to have suffered minor injuries.

Many lives were probably saved because a truck parked near the car bore the brunt of the explosion, shielding the rear of the crowded Parimpora market. Javed Iqbal Sheikh, the driver's assistant on the truck, is one of those killed in the explosion. On the other side of the highway, an autorickshaw carrying vegetables again absorbed much of the blast. Brig. Chopra's jeep took relatively light damage, despite being thrown into a ditch running along the road. Most of the victims were local residents and workers, many of them labourers. Abdul Samad Samsher, who loads and unloads trucks in the market, died as he was preparing for the day's work. "Just the other day," says a local tailor, Mohammad Shafiq, "I'd asked him for payment for some clothes I had stitched for one of his eight daughters. He had promised to pay me this evening."

Cousins Ajaz Ahmad Malik and Bilal Ahmad Malik, the drivers of the destroyed autorickshaw, had come from Haripora-Haran near Budgam to sell vegetables. Their family, according to the Parimpora residents who spoke to relatives who came from the village, has lost two other young men in separate bomb explosions. The others killed in the bombing — Mohammad Ramzan and Mohammad Ayub — were also labourers in the Parimpora market.

Hizb claim

Security sources attribute considerable significance to the Hizb claim. The outfit has maintained a low profile in Srinagar in the past several months, and its central Kashmir commander, Abdul Rashid Pir, who operates under the alias Shardar Khan, is believed to be sympathetic to the ruling People's Democratic Party. The PDP, in turn, had been calling for the inclusion of the Hizb in political dialogue on the future of Jammu and Kashmir.

Unconfirmed intelligence reports, however, suggest that Pir may have left for Pakistan in the last fortnight, after a series of near-successful police and Border Security Force raids on his hideouts. If the reports are correct, today's bombing could mean the Hizb's quasi-truce is over, and it has joined the ranks of organisations hostile to the peace process, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who visited the injured shortly after the bombing, seemed undeterred by the prospect. "We should not be deterred by such attacks," he said, "and the normalisation process must continue. Bombings have taken place in other States as well, like Maharashtra and Gujarat. We will have to live with this."

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