Tension in Shia-dominated areas

MATIPORA (Baramulla), SEPT. 2. The toll in Friday's IED blast aimed at the prominent Shia leader, Moulvi Iftikhar Ansari, increased to three. Shops and business establishments in Shia- dominated localities remained closed today as a mark of protest.

After three months, militants again targeted the vocal Shia clergyman, who was dropped from the Farooq Abdullah Government as Housing Minister late last year. On June 2, when Mr. Ansari was addressing a big religious gathering in Gund Khawja Qasim, militants detonated a landmine killing 12. He escaped with minor injuries. And on this Friday evening the tactics was repeated, though he was moving with upgraded security. As the first two escort vehicles crossed, an IED was detonated with a remote control.

``We heard a big bang and soon came to know that the Moulvi was hit,'' said Ghulam Hassan who lives nearby. When the people rushed to the spot, they saw Mr. Ansari's bullet proof vehicle thrown into pieces. One of the residents said four militants carried out the blast and fled the place. The front portion of the car was severely damaged, killing the driver and Mr. Ansari's personal security officer on the spot. Mr. Ansari who was sitting in the rare escaped with some injuries. Another PSO who was injured died in the hospital late last night. Ironically, a police bunker is located not far from the spot.

Shia followers of Mr. Ansari protested strongly last evening with women beating their chests and others weeping. Today, an unprecedented number of police and paramilitary personnel has been deployed along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. The police prevented hundreds of people from converging on the road. The residents questioned security arrangements for Mr. Ansari's tour. The area falls under the Pattan Assembly constituency which he represents.

After Mr. Ansari's was discharged from the hospital, the Governor, Mr. Garish Chandra Saxena, and a number of Ministers and legislators called on him at his Qamarwari residence in Srinagar.

The Director General of Police, Mr. Gurbachan Jagat, said investigations into the blast had begun. The IG (Operations), Mr. P S Gill, who had been conducting an inquiry into the June 2 blast would also investigate the case. He said the Hizb-ul- Momineen carried out the earlier blast with its Commander Usman who frequently visited Nepal and Pakistan. The DGP denied that a police picket was near the present blast site.

Mr. Jagat quoted Mr. Ansari's younger brother, Mr. Abid Ansari, as saying that Usman was again seen in the area in the last few days. Mr. Abid blamed the authorities for poor security arrangements. ``They had been informed about Moulvi Saheb's programme two days before. They should have gone accordingly in making the arrangements,'' he told The Hindu.

PTI reports:

An Army Major and five militants were among eight persons killed in three encounters between militants and security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir since yesterday, an official spokesman said.

Three militants, an Army Major and a civilian were killed in an encounter between militants and security personnel at Drahteng- Prang village on the Srinagar-Leh national highway today, he said.

The security personnel were conducting house-to-house searches after sealing the village last evening when militants opened heavy fire on them.

The troops retaliated and the exchange of firing continued till today, the spokesman said adding four civilians were also injured in the encounter.

Two of the militants were identified as Farooq Master and Mohammad Shafi of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen outfit.

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