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Kashmiris unmask India's devilish plot

IN THE tales of Islam they often refer to djin - a fire demon that sometimes takes the shape of a man, gigantic and hideous. In Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, there have been a dozen sightings of djin in the past week, usually by women attacked in their homes at night. Witnesses claim, however, that these demons wear bulletproof vests.

Sending 'ghosts' on raiding parties is the latest attempt by Indian security forces to intimidate the Kashmir Muslims, who for five years have been demanding freedom from Indian rule for the north-west Himalayan state.

It is terrorism in its purest form. Dress up a man in a mask, give him lethal, claw-like metal gloves and a bulletproof vest, covered by a robe. Send him to break into people's homes and literally scare them to death.

That is what happened to Ali Mohamed Khan, a retired labourer. He and his wife and daughters were sleeping in their attic room last Thursday when the ghost leapt in. 'My father stood up and this ghost - not a ghost, this person - pushed my father out of the window,' said Yasmina, 14. Mr Khan fell three stories to his death.

Superstition was replaced by cynicism, as other ghosts were spotted in Srinagar. Six people were injured in 'demon' attacks, and one 'ghost' stole jewellery and 40,000 rupees ( pounds 850).

Kashmiris claim that the ghost tactic shows the desperation of the Indian security forces after failing to quell five years of open revolt. The Indians have backed up their resolve to hang on to the troubled state of 3.5 million people by sending in more than 300,000 troops.

But the Kashmiris are learning how to ward off the evil spirits. The Srinagar newspapers ran cartoons showing the sharp- clawed djin unmasked as an Indian soldier. And in one neighbourhood Kashmiris stand guard on the rooftops for ghost- alert.

'At about 2.30 at night we saw him coming down the alley. He was wearing a long, yellow dress and jumping like a monkey,' laughed Javad Bhutt, a shopkeeper. 'The dogs were chasing him. I cried out, and he ran back and hid in one of the army bunkers. It's no ghost, I tell you. The soldiers in the bunker were calling him by his Hindu name. 'Run, Vinod] The dogs are after you,' they said.'

NEW DELHI - Six Indian soldiers and a Kashmiri porter were killed and five soldiers injured when an army vehicle hit a land-mine in north-west Kashmir valley yesterday, police said, Reuter reports.