Troops hunt Kashmiri rebels among ruins

The battle was supposed to be over, the militants dead, driven by the Indian army back into the flames of the 14th century mosque that the besieged Kashmiris had set ablaze to cover their escape.

But as reporters climbed through a hillside orchard for a first view of Chrar-e-Sharif, an explosion punched the air, then a second blast, and a third. "Get back," shouted an army spokesman as we ran up the hill to see what was going on. "There are still encounters happening."

Chrar-e-Sharif had been devastated. Not only had the mosque been burnt down but so too had most of the town. Indian authorities said 800 houses and shops were destroyed but it looked more like 1,500 to 2,000 buildings. The town looked like the blackened contents of a pot that someone had spilled down the side of the valley.

A few fires raged stubbornly, even though it seemed there was nothing left to burn. Soldiers prowled through the ashes looking for surviving militants. Clouds from the explosion clung over the town as though they had detached from the thunderstorms in the snowy Pir Panjal range a few miles away. Another explosion thudded, and shots rang out.

"Stay low," Brigadier Mohinder Singh cautioned. "There's some fire-fighting still going on.'' His 1,500 soldiers of the Punjab Rifles were trying to kill or capture the surviving Muslim insurgents who were barricaded inside the Chrar-e-Sharif mosque for several months. It is forbidden to even enter a mosque wearing shoes, let alone carrying weapons, but the insurgents had walked in with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Twenty-three of the 60 besieged militants had been killed by the army during their assault during the last two days. "Some militants are still holed up in there, but we can't rule out the possibility that they've sneaked out," the brigadier said. His men have yet to trap the militants' commander, a long-haired Afghan named Mast Gul.

Indian officials claim the militants, following radio orders from Pakistan, destroyed the mosque and town in order to blame it later on the Indian security forces. The militants' aim, said officials in New Delhi and the Kashmir capital, Srinagar, was to sabotage elections that India wants to hold within the next two months in the hope of finally quelling six years of Muslim unrest in the state. But hatred of India - and equally, fear of the militants - is so pervasive that most Kashmiris are unwilling to vote.

While recapturing Chrar-e-Sharif, Indian troops discovered a small explosives shop where - according to the brigadier - militants made the bombs used to blow up the mosque, The mosque contains the relics of Kashmir's patron saint, a Sufi mystic. The officer denied claims by Kashmiri militants that the fires in Chrar-e-Sharif were caused by troops.

Despite a 48-hour curfew in Kashmir, 300 angry refugees from Chrar-e- Sharif braved the shoot-to-kill orders to tell their story. "Our houses were set on fire by the army," yelled Abdul Kayoom. Next to him, a dozen men beat on their bare chests with grief and rage, while women howled. "We saw the army go into the market and set it ablaze," said Sarida Hassan, a student. "We've lost everything, even the dowry my mother was saving. Now I'll never be able to marry."

The Kashmiris' fury over the burning of the holy shrine spread yesterday throughout this Himalayan valley. Mobs set fire to government buildings and clashed with police in Srinagar and in scores of villages.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam