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Asia/Pacific - India - Hinduism

Hindu Temple Attacks Leave 12 Dead
by Binoo Joshi (AP, November 25, 2002)

JSecurity forces used rocket launchers Monday before storming two Hindu temples in India-controlled Kashmir where Islamic militants were holed up, police said. Twelve people, including the two rebels, were killed.

At least 50 others, mostly Hindu devotees visiting this city of temples, were injured, said Ashok Suri, the police chief of Jammu-Kashmir state.

Police and paramilitary troops killed one militant at the Raghunath Temple and another at the nearby Panchvaktar Temple in Jammu, the state's winter capital, after a six-hour offensive.

Five civilians and two policeman were killed, authorities said. The identities of the other three dead were not immediately known.

Shooting between security forces and suspected Islamic militants erupted again early Monday, police said. It ended about two hours later, with one militant killed in the narrow alleys, police confirmed. They were unsure whether a second militant was involved or whether he was killed.

The militant attacks came amid a flare-up in violence in the northern state, where a separatist Islamic insurgency has killed more than 61,000 people since 1989. Over the past three days, 36 people have been killed.

New Delhi has blamed Pakistan-based militant groups for staging cross-border attacks in the Himalayan region, which is the major flashpoint between India and Pakistan.

On Sunday, multiple grenade explosions took place in the nearby Hari Market, from where thousands of Hindu pilgrims set off daily on their way to the mountaintop shrine of Vaishno Devi. It was unknown if there were any casualties.

Moments later, two suspected Islamic militants stormed into the 142-year-old Raghunath Temple, firing weapons and hurling grenades. The temple is one of the most revered Hindu pilgrimage sites in the region.

Hundreds of Hindus hunkered in small rooms or behind pillars in the temple's sprawling marbled campus.

"Two men first threw grenades at an ice cream parlor, then started indiscriminate firing and forced their way into the temple," junior federal minister I.D. Swami told the private Zee News television channel. "Temples are soft targets. The terrorists who come from Pakistan want to spread panic and provoke religious violence."

Police blocked access after many civilians stormed into the temple minutes after the attack, carrying iron rods and rocks. Hundreds jostled with police, accusing them of not protecting them.

They shouted slogans against the state's new coalition government, and accused it of going soft on the militants.

More than three hours later, security forces fought their way in, after exchanging fierce gunfire with the militants.

Police declared the temple safe late Sunday night after searching the sprawling campus for more militants, booby traps and live grenades.

Then, for several hours, security forces cordoned off the Panchvaktar Temple, located in a narrow alley about 400 yards away, where the second militant fled.

Troops fired rocket launchers into the temple before security forces raided it and killed the militant, officials said.

Most survivors were brought out dazed or weeping, and several had to be carried out by rescuers.

The body of the first militant was dragged out by policemen, leaving a trail of blood on the marble floor. Angry pilgrims followed, forced the police to stop and stomped on the man's body.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, whose Congress Party is a major partner in the coalition, rejected accusations the government was soft on militants.

"We will never let the terrorists succeed. They will be defeated, like they have always been defeated," Azad told the private Aaj Tak channel. "This is an attack on secularism and Indian democracy."

Authorities later imposed curfew across Jammu city, apparently to prevent religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

Sunday's attack was the second on the Raghunath Temple. In March, suspected Islamic militants raided the temple, killing eight people. The two attackers were later shot down.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the separatist rebellion. Islamabad says it supports the rebels' cause but gives them no material aid.

The state of Jammu-Kashmir is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, who have twice gone to war over Kashmir and frequently trade fire along the frontier.