The encounter between security forces and militants holed up in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute building in Pampore ended on Wednesday afternoon, as the army called off the operation about 57 hours after the gunfight began.
“Two people have been eliminated and two weapons ... have been recovered,” said major general Ashok Narula, GOC Victor Force, during a press briefing.
An army man and a police officer were injured in the encounter, which started on Monday morning after militants entered the hostel building of the institute.
“This was a tricky operation because it is a very huge building and we did not want to have any of the collateral damage because there were chances of civilians inside. All those people were taken out,” he said.
The official said the slain men were “probably” from Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The hostel building, in which the militants were holed up since Monday morning, has around 60 rooms and the forces waited for the gunmen to exhaust their ammunition before moving in.
“The building has 60 rooms and every room has an attached bathroom. We had to follow the drill for every room. That is the reason it took time to clear each room because we could not have made haste. There are too many rooms and too many floors, it was tedious process,” Narula said.
The security forces launched their final assault on Wednesday morning after pounding the seven-storeyed building with heavy explosives during the night.
One of the dead bodies of the militants was recovered from the building in the morning after forces cleared the rooms, said director general of police (coordination) SP Vaid.
He said the final assault was launched after they received no fire from the militants’ side.
The security forces entered one portion of the building and proceeded cautiously to avoid any casualties of their men as more militants could have been hiding inside. The army pressed in their elite para commandos to neutralise any surviving militants.
This was the second time in the past eight months that militants have targeted the institute complex — comprising a guest house, a hostel and the main office building.
In February, five security forces personnel and a civilian were killed after militants first attacked a CRPF convoy outside the institute on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and then walked into the main building. The encounter lasted about 48 hours and ended with the death of three militants.
The latest attack has raised questions about security in and around the complex. After the February attack, authorities decided to build bunkers around the complex but the work is yet to begin. Only a tin fence was erected on the front to secure the complex after the incident.
“The institute is the centre of excellence in which a lot of our young brethren get employment. I feel very sad that for the second time the building was occupied (by militants). This is the pride of Kashmir and for the second time it was targeted,” Narula said.
The Valley has been witnessing violent public protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July. Curfew was imposed in many parts of capital Srinagar on Wednesday to prevent protest processions on Muharram in sensitive areas of the city.
Surge in militant attacks
There has been an increase in the number of militant attacks in Kashmir following Indian Army’s announcement of surgical strikes across Line of Control in response to an attack on an army base in Uri on September 18 that killed 19 soldiers.
Inspector general of police Kashmir SJM Gillani, who accompanied Narula during the press briefing, said they had inputs after the Baramulla attack about people wanting to sneak into the city and carry out these types of attacks on the highway.
“Our people were alert that is why probably these people could not cause any damage on the highway and they had to take shelter in this building,” Gilani said.
He said they are prepared for any eventuality. “Any deployment that has to be done in terms of defensive posturing is being done. Also in terms of preventive operations, that are being conducted,” he said.
Army officials on Wednesday said they foiled an infiltration bid by militants from across the Line of Control in Tangdhar sector of Kupwara district, but did not provide any more details.