Guerrilla group sets off car bomb in Kashmir; 11 killed

SRINAGAR, India - The guerrilla group that brought hopes of peace to Kashmir declared war again Thursday, setting off a decoy grenade that lured policemen and then slaughtering them with a powerful car bomb. At least 11 people were killed and 19 wounded.

The Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, the main Muslim militant group in this Himalayan province, claimed responsibility for the attack in which 10 police and one photojournalist died. It was the Pakistan-based group's first strike since it called off a cease-fire Tuesday and canceled talks with the Indian government aimed at restoring peace in the Kashmir Valley.

''With our cease-fire we showed the Indians that we can be peace-loving, but with this we have now shown them that we can also be strong fighters,'' Hezb-ul Mujahedeen spokesman Salim Hashmi told The Associated Press in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Before Thursday's lethal blast, the guerrillas set off a hand grenade explosion that drew soldiers and journalists to Lal Chowk, the business district in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state. An army colonel and a soldier were hurt in the first explosion, police said.

''We took positions in our bunker after the first blast and we saw many journalists rush to the area,'' said Devanand Thakur, a guard at the State Bank of India near the blast site.

Ten minutes later, eyewitnesses said, the second explosion roared out from a car near the bank. Several journalists filming damage from the first explosion were among the wounded, and other officers were hurt in addition to the 10 that died.

''Everything was dark. We could see dust and smoke in the air. People were running,'' Thakur said.

Mutilated bodies, mangled metal and broken tree branches were strewn on the street, and motorcycles, cars and a dozen shops were badly damaged. Some of the wounded wailed as they were taken away by soldiers.

Caps from the dead policemen were strewn on the road, which was deserted within minutes as shops shut down and terrified people scurried for cover. Electric wires lay twisted.

Associated Press Television News producer Andrew Drake was standing with other journalists outside the bank building. When the second blast erupted, ''soldiers fired in the air and police cordoned off the area. Fire trucks and ambulances were racing to the area,'' Drake said. ''Some people were pouring water over the bodies.''

''I have removed seven bodies,'' said Manohar Singh, a paramilitary soldier. ''They were all in uniform.''

Pradeep Bhatia, a photographer for The Hindustan Times, was killed in the blast, said Satish Kumar, an assistant to the newspaper's New Delhi-based editor, Vir Sanghvi. Bhatia, 31, whose heart was pierced by shrapnel, was pronounced dead at the hospital.

In all, at least 20 people were injured, said Jamshied Ahmed, a doctor at a police control room who performed autopsies. One died later.

Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan, has been wracked by a separatist movement since 1989. The various groups of Muslim militants fighting Indian security forces here want the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir to break away and remain independent or merge with Pakistan. The conflict has left 25,000 people dead.

Another of the guerrilla groups, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, condemned the latest bombing.

''It is very easy for us to attack Indian armed forces and their headquarters and we have always avoided attacks on public places because we don't want to kill civilians,'' group spokesman Yahya Mujahed said by telephone from the Pakistani Punjab capital, Lahore.

Later Thursday, another grenade exploded half a mile away from the blast site, injuring two women shopping for groceries.

In Baramullah, 40 miles to the north, militants attacked a border patrol, killing one soldier and injuring another. Police said the soldiers, angry at being targeted, killed one civilian and injured five others when they opened fire indiscriminately.

In Jammu, Indian-controlled Kashmir's winter capital, police arrested a man they said was a Hindu militant working for the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen. Bharat Kumar was arrested with two explosive devices, one of them timed to go off on Aug. 15, India's independence day, Inspector-General R.V. Raju said.

The day of violence came less than three weeks after the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen suddenly announced a cease-fire on July 24, angering other militant groups opposed to talks that did not involve them or Pakistan.

On Aug. 1 and 2, nine attacks in southern Kashmir killed 102 people. The Indian government accused smaller militant groups of launching the attacks in retaliation for the cease-fire.

The Hezb-ul Mujahedeen called off the cease-fire on Tuesday, angered that Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee refused to involve Pakistan in peace talks.


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