News / Asia

2 Militants Killed After 22-Hour Standoff in India Kashmir

In Indian Kashmir, two suspected Islamic militants have been killed following a 22-hour standoff with security forces in the heart of its summer capital.  Incident is the first major attack by separatist militants in Srinagar in nearly two years.    

Police say the militants were shot dead Thursday, after commandoes stormed a hotel where the gunmen took refuge after launching grenades and spraying gunfire in Srinagar's main business district. 

Security forces evacuated hundreds of people from the hotel and nearby buildings before mounting the operation.  The exchange of gunfire between police and militants, which began Wednesday afternoon, continued for almost a day in an area which usually hums with activity. The hotel building caught fire by the time the siege ended. 

A policeman and a civilian were killed and several other people were wounded in the assault by the militants -- the biggest witnessed in Indian Kashmir's summer capital for nearly two years. 

Kashmir Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda says the siege followed a concerted effort by Islamic militants to step up attacks in Indian Kashmir.

"In 2009, we had sharp drop of 30 percent in militant violence," said Khoda.  "But there is desperation on the other side.  There is desperation in infiltration.  There is desperation in launching attacks.  And, this is part of that."

An Islamic rebel group active in the area, the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility for the latest attack, saying it is in response to India's assertion that the armed struggle has weakened in Kashmir.  

However, police officials in Srinagar say they believe the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba mounted the attack. 

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan.  Indian officials say militants infiltrate from the Pakistani side of Kashmir to mount attacks on the Indian side.  

Several rebel groups have been waging a separatist struggle in Indian Kashmir since 1989, wanting the Muslim-majority region to either merge with Pakistan or become independent.  But violence began declining after India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004.  The region is now much calmer than it was at the height of the separatist insurgency in the 1990's, even though the peace process is stalled.

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