Muslim terrorists murder 35 Hindu villagers in Kashmir
May 1, 2006
Violence in Kashmir Leaves 35 People Dead
Wave of Violence by Islamic Militants Aimed at Hindu Minority in Kashmir Leaves 35 People Dead
By BINOO JOSHI
The Associated Press
DODA, India - A wave of violence by Islamic militants aimed at Indian-controlled Kashmir's Hindu minority has left 35 dead, police said Monday, days ahead of a planned meeting between the divided region's political separatists and India's prime minister.
In one village, militants disguised as soldiers coaxed residents from their homes and then gunned down 22 of them the single bloodiest attack by Islamic guerrillas in Kashmir since a 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested the killings would not hamper efforts to find peace in the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan.
"People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly," Singh said.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of backing the militants, even as the two countries have talked peace. Singh, however, stopped short of blaming Islamabad for the attack.
A spokeswoman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, Tasnim Aslam, said the killings were "an act of terrorism and we condemn it."
Witnesses said more than a half-dozen assailants, some of them in army uniforms, slipped into the village of Thava after dark Sunday and, using local guides, told villagers they had come to meet residents.
"When we assembled outside the home of the village head ... they showered bullets on us," said Gyan Chand, one of five people wounded in the attack. He spoke from a hospital in the town of Doda, near Thava, some 600 miles north of India's capital, New Delhi.
Following the attack, survivors rushed to alert the army, but the assailants fled before security forces arrived, said Sheesh Pal Vaid, a police inspector-general.
For centuries, Kashmir's Hindus known as Pandits lived peacefully alongside the region's Muslim majority.
But the Pandits have been targeted relentlessly by Islamic insurgents who have been fighting since 1989 to wrest Kashmir from largely Hindu India. Most have fled, many to squalid refugee camps in safer parts of India. An estimated 2,000 Pandits have been killed in the insurgency, which has claimed nearly 67,000 lives.
The remaining 25,000 Pandits in Kashmir a tenth of the pre-insurgency population are subject to frequent attacks, and many live in fear.
"Anything can strike us anytime. It is frightening, but life goes on," said B. L. Warikoo, a Pandit in Srinagar, summer capital of India's part of Kashmir.
Hours before the village attack, police found the first four bodies of at least 13 Hindu shepherds abducted over the weekend in Kashmir's Udhampur district.
Islamic militants have been blamed for the abductions, and authorities found the bodies of nine more shepherds Monday, said a senior police officer, Rajesh Singh.
A leader of Kashmir's political separatist movement, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called the attack on the village "a deplorable and heinous act."
His group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, is to take part in a previously planned meeting Wednesday between Kashmiri political separatists and Singh.
"I hope we are able to find a way out of this mindless death and destruction," Farooq said.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Vaid called the killings "a terrorist attack" a clear indication that authorities were blaming Islamic militants.
The state's deputy chief minister, Muzaffar Hussain Beig, said the "terrorists" were "bent upon marring the fragile peace and security in the region. But the peace process is irreversible and cannot be sabotaged."
However, the largest Islamic militant group, Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, claimed in a statement to Kashmir's Current News Service that Indian intelligence agents carried out the killings as an "attempt to defame the" insurgents.
Associated Press writer Mujtaba Ali Ahmad in Srinagar contributed to this report.