Srinagar: The government forces were engaged in a flush-out operation as a group of militants took positions inside the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) building after attacking a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy at Sempora near Pampore town on Saturday afternoon.
Two CRPF personnel and a civilian employee died in the shootout, while over a hundred civilians, including EDI employees, were evacuated from the area.
The shootout began at about 3:30 pm when militants targeted a CRPF convoy with grenades and automatic weapons. The civilian traffic came to a grinding halt on the highway. A CRPF bus driver head-constable RK Rana died in the first bout of fire.
Sources said the militants immediately rushed to nearby multi-storey EDI building to take positions. More than a hundred EDI employees, students and prospective entrepreneurs were inside the spacious building when the attack took place. The militants are believed to be affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit.
Sources said the news channels were instructed against telecasting the operation live for “security reasons”.
Eyewitnesses said that they saw at least three militants entering the premises and asking them to move out of the building.
“After hearing the gunshots we came out of the building to inquire what happened outside. As we were coming out we saw at least three gunmen coming towards the building,” said an employee of the EDI who was trapped for around two hours.
He said that around 70 persons moved out of the building and shifted to hostel building behind for safety. “Over a dozen employees who were in the computer laboratory located on the top floor were later taken out from the emergency fire exit,” the employee said.
Most of the civilians were evacuated from the building by 6 pm. Sources said militants did not attempt to take hostages and allowed safe passage to all civilians, reportedly telling them that armed forces, not civilians, were their targets.
A CRPF deputy commandant was wounded during the evacuation process.
Spokesman of CRPF Bhavesh Chowdhary said that two CRPF personnel were killed in the attack. He said Head Constable Driver RK Rana was killed on the spot while another head-constable Bhola Singh later succumbed to injuries. A third trooper succumbed in the night.
Sources said army, CRPF and Special Operations Group of state police from Srinagar and Awantipora encircled the building to launch the final assault. They said that the operation has entered into a difficult phase as the building comprises a huge number of rooms and it was difficult to zero in on the exact location of militants.
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack but sources said that a fidayeen group of Lashkar comprising two to three militants is involved in the attack.
The authorities diverted the traffic on the highway, which generally witnesses huge traffgic density on Saturday afternoon.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Ghulam Hassan Bhat said that all civilians including EDI employees and students trapped inside the campus were evacuated safely.
As the operation was underway, scores of people blocked the highway and clashed with the government forces in Frastbal, Kadlabal and Drangbal areas of Pampore.
The protesters pelted stones at the forces’ vehicles. Three protesters were injured when the forces fired teargas canisters to disperse them.