Police Lines stormed, militants take shelter in family quarters, dozens evacuated during 15-hour gunfight; Jaish-e-Mohammad re-surfaces in south Kashmir to claim attack
Anantnag: A pre-dawn fidayeen attack on Pulwama District Police Lines (DPL) left at least ten people dead, after more than 15 hours of intense exchange of fire between militants and government forces on Saturday.
The dead include four men of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, four personnel of the paramilitary CRPF, and two militants.
Director General of Police (DGP) SP Vaid told Kashmir Reader that a combing operation was on at the site of the encounter.
“Firing has stopped as of now. Two buildings have been searched and the third one is being combed thoroughly. We are expecting to retrieve body of the third militant soon,” Vaid told this reporter over phone.
Sources, however, told Kashmir Reader that firing was still going on, and the lone surviving militant was giving a tough fight to the government forces.
According to police reports and sources, the militants entered the DPL at about 3:45 AM Saturdaymorning using police uniforms as cover.
“They did not use the main gate. There is a smaller door at the family quarters’ end of the DPL, which they used to enter the premises,” a police source told Kashmir Reader.
The source said that the gate is usually manned by CRPF personnel, who came under a volley of bullets soon after they let the militants in mistaking them for policemen.
“The gate is used by policemen often to fetch water from a nearby water supply scheme. That is apparently what might have created confusion in the minds of the CRPF personnel,” the source said.
After the firing at the gate the militants ran towards one of the three family quarters’ block and took shelter there.
Sources in the police told Kashmir Reader that most of the policemen living in the quarters were up for an early morning drill as a top politician from an opposition party was visiting the area.
“Had that not been the case the fatalities might have been much higher,” the sources said.
By the time the militants took shelter, the entire security grid was put on alarm.
“Contingents of police, army and CRPF were rushed to the spot,” sources said.
The first priority, Vaid said, was to take out the people trapped in the family quarters safely.
“Around 28 to 29 people were rescued and taken to safety,” Vaid said.
Two policemen, however, were left behind and during the intense gunfight between the holed-up militants and government forces, both of them were killed.
The exchange of fire continued for more than 15 hours before a halt encouraged the government forces to move ahead and comb two of the three buildings, which by the end of the day were reduced to rubble.
The forces used heavy artillery to bombard the buildings where militants had taken shelter.
“Around ten heavy explosions were heard throughout the day, indicating use of heavy explosives to kill the militants. Two buildings have been completely damaged,” a local source told Kashmir Reader.
Today’s attack was the first fidayeen attack in south Kashmir region since the second attack on EDI Building in Pampore in October last year.
Asked if there was a security lapse on part of the forces, the DGP said, “There is not much one can do when the other person has come to die. Investigations will reveal how the attack was carried out,” Vaid told mediamen in Pulwama, after the wreath-laying ceremony for the slain policemen. Late evening, police while paying tributes identified the slain policemen as constable Imtiyaz Ahmad, SPO Mohammad Yousuf Hajam, SPO Rafiq Ahmad Hajam and nursing orderly Amarjeet Singh.
Meanwhile, amid the gunfight, militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility of the attack.
“The valiant militants stormed into the CRPF camp stationed at DPL, Pulwama, and inflicted casualties upon the armed forces” JeM spokesperson Hassan Shah told CNS over phone.
He told CNS that the armed forces have suffered massive damage while militants present there are giving a tough time to the Indian troops.
This attack has brought the spotlight on JeM’s presence in south Kashmir, after a string of intelligence inputs regarding their presence in the area.
“There have been inputs regarding over a dozen militants, affiliated with JeM, being active in south Kashmir, particularly Tral,” a top police source told Kashmir Reader.
On June 14 this year, the DGP had blamed JeM for multiple attacks carried out across south Kashmir on the eve of Jang-e-Badr.
The outfit, however, chose to remain mum and let Hizb claim the attacks.
“Why they have chosen to own this attack remains to be seen,” the police source said.
The outfit founded by Maulana Masood Azhar in 2000 soon after his release in exchange of IC-814 Indian Airlines flight passengers, introduced the phenomenon of fidayeen attacks in Kashmir valley, soon after its inception.
The group’s presence had since dwindled across Kashmir, more so in the southern parts.
After 2013, the outfit was spoken of for the first time after the Uri attack in September 2016 which left at least 19 army men dead.
“While there have been inputs and rumours about regrouping of the outfit, this is the first major indication that the outfit can become a potent threat in the coming days,” a police official in south Kashmir told this reporter.
He said that only a thorough investigation into today’s attack can be an indicator of the quantum of threat the re-emergence of the outfit poses.