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Hindu Pilgrims Killed in Indian Kashmir - 2002-08-06

In Indian-administered Kashmir, eight Hindu pilgrims have been killed and more than 25 others wounded in an attack by suspected Islamic militants. Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani says an Islamic guerrilla group called al-Mansourian has claimed responsibility for the attack. He says the group is the new name of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

Police say suspected Islamic militants attacked a pilgrim camp just before dawn Tuesday at Nunwan, about 100 kilometers southeast of the summer capital Srinagar.

Hundreds of pilgrims were asleep, others were preparing to leave on their journey when the gunmen hurled hand-grenades at the camp, and then opened fire with automatic weapons. The firing continued for over a hour. One of the attackers was killed; the others escaped into the surrounding forests.

The Nunwan camp is the base for an annual month-long pilgrimage undertaken by thousands of Hindus at this time of the year to a shrine in Amarnath cave, high in the Himalayas. Hindus believe the image of Lord Shiva appears in ice in the cave during July and August.

The 350 kilometer route of the pilgrimage starts from Kashmir's winter capital Jammu. It has been frequently targeted by Islamic militants, and is heavily guarded by thousands of soldiers and policemen. Just last week, two people, including one pilgrim, were killed in a grenade attack by militants on the pilgrimage route.

Indian Home Minister I.D. Swami says security will be further strengthened to enable people to continue on their pilgrimage, called a yatra.

"We are determined to continue the yatra. People have come from far off places and with full faith," Minister Swami said.

Police say in another dawn attack in Indian Kashmir, suspected Muslim militants dressed in army fatigues attacked an army camp in the border district of Kupwara, 75 kilometers north of Srinagar but were killed by security forces.

The latest violence comes days after New Delhi announced state elections will be held in Jammu and Kashmir state, starting September, to choose a new government. Officials say they are bracing for a surge in violence ahead of the polls. Muslim militant groups are fighting to free Kahsmir from Indian rule, have vowed to disrupt the elections.

There are also concerns that the latest violence will raise tensions between India and Pakistan. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of supporting infiltration by Muslim militants into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge.