Car bomb kills dozens at Kashmir assembly

War on Terrorism: India
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The Independent Online

Suspected Islamic militants exploded a car bomb outside the state legislature in Kashmir yesterday and fought a gunbattle with security forces inside the building. At least 31 people were killed and 75 wounded, police said.

The shooting ended about seven hours after the explosion. Police said most of the 100 employees working inside the building appeared to have escaped unharmed.

One of the Islamic rebel groups fighting for the independence of India's Jammu-Kashmir state claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police said the assault could have been much worse if the assailants had realised that the lawmakers were meeting in a nearby building because the state legislature had recently been damaged in a fire. The workers who remained in the building included secretaries and clerks.

Police said that the rebels brought the hijacked sports utility vehicle to the assembly building and blew it up at around 2pm local time (0830 GMT) in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir.

Although the driver was killed, at least three other gunmen dressed in police uniforms left the vehicle before the blast and rushed into the legislature, according to police.

Firing their guns and throwing hand grenades, they engaged in a battle with security forces, said RK Jala, the superintendent of police.

The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to the Associated Press in Srinagar.

The group was launched by a Pakistani radical leader, Massood Azhar – one of three men freed from Indian jails in 1999 in exchange for a hijacked Indian plane and its passengers that were flown to Afghanistan.

For the past 12 years, more than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting in Jammu-Kashmir for independence from India or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died.

Yesterday's attack was the most violent one in the state since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September, which have been blamed on Osama bin Laden, who is based in Afghanistan. The Taliban government supports the rebels fighting in Kashmir.

Some Indian officials had expected that pro-Taliban militants fighting in Kashmir would return to Afghanistan to help defend it from a likely US military attack to kill or capture Mr bin Laden. But police reported over the weekend that little movement among the rebels had been seen and that attacks by them on Indian forces had actually declined since 11 September.

Yesterday, most of the 100 people working in the legislature rushed out of the building soon after the explosion, according to police. Later, the remaining workers left through a back door.

The blast, which shattered the windows of a nearby hotel and more than two dozen shops, left a dozen bodies lying in the streets outside the legislature. Police said at least 25 people were killed and 75 wounded. Sixty-one of the wounded were takes to hospital in Srinagar, police said.

Police said the attackers hijacked a federal telecommunications department vehicle and released its driver shortly before the attack. But in the claim of responsibility the attackers said that they rented a cab and loaded it with explosives.

The militant groups do not recognise the legitimacy of the legislature, which was created by the Indian government. Many Kashmiris boycott the elections that choose local people as the lawmakers.

Pakistan openly supports the militants. India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels. ( Associated Press)