Twelve dead after troops end Hindu temple siege

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The Independent Online

At least 12 people were killed and 50 injured yesterday after troops ended a siege of a Hindu temple by Islamists in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. The attack by rebels had dashed hopes that bloodshed would ease after the election of a new state government.

At least 12 people were killed and 50 injured yesterday after troops ended a siege of a Hindu temple by Islamists in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. The attack by rebels had dashed hopes that bloodshed would ease after the election of a new state government.

The men, believed to be from radical Islamist separatist groups, struck shortly after dark by hurling grenades around a market place in Jammu, the state's winter capital. They then burst into the 150-year-old Raghunath temple complex, sending some worshippers fleeing in panic and trapping others.

A stand-off of several hours ensued, in which the attackers and the surrounding Indian security forces traded fire. The Star News service in India said that there were two militants. The first of the attackers was killed – his bloodied corpse was pictured on film – while the other was holed up in a smaller temple a few hundred yards away, where a separate siege continued into the early hours. This ended when he, too, was killed. The attack brought to the death toll in the state to more than 30 in two days.

Raghunath temple, a shrine to the god Ram which is visited by hundreds of thousands from across India every year, suffered a similar attack in March, when 10 people died. And only two months ago, 30 people were killed in the western state of Gujarat when armed militants burst into a temple in Gandhinagar.

Yesterday's events – which some reports last night said claimed as many as a dozen lives – is evidence of a situation that has been steadily deteriorating in recent days in the Himalayan state. Almost every day brings death and violence, adding more names to the 61,000 who have died in this conflict in the past 13 years.

On Saturday, 12 people were killed, including six soldiers and several children, when a bus hit a land-mine. On Friday, two men on a suicide mission attacked a barracks in Srinagar, killing four soldiers. On Thursday, 11 people were killed in separate incidents; on Wednesday, gunmen opened fire on a market place, killing two, including a state legislator's brother.

It is clear that the violence is intended to send a message to the new state government – a coalition which is pro-Delhi but favours negotiations. Two Islamist militant groups – Jamiat-ul-Mujahedin and Harkat-e-Jihad Islami – claimed responsibility for the landmine blast on Saturday. A statement singled out Kashmir's new chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Syed, who took office promising to heal wounds and has claimed that Kashmiri militancy was in its dying throes. "It was a response to [his] assertion that militancy was on its last legs," they said in a brief statement published in Kashmir's main newspaper, Greater Kashmir.

Signs were beginning to emerge last night that the attacks are stirring up internal frictions, with growing unease on the right over the new state government. Grumblings in Delhi have been growing in volume over what is perceived to be its soft stance, especially after the release of several separatist leaders from prison.

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