A militant was reportedly killed as security forces pounded a building of the Pampore-based government entrepreneurship institute, 12km from Srinagar, which has been under siege since Monday with a group of gunmen hiding there.
Commandos fired mortars and blasted IEDs on Tuesday as the standoff continued as the guerrillas armed with rockets, grenades and automatic firearms kept changing position inside the building, using their ammunition sparingly.
Reports said one militant was killed, but there was no official confirmation yet, news agencies said.
Counter-terrorism officials revealed the militants’ strategy, saying a suicide attack in Srinagar was their first choice, but when they failed to breach the city’s security they entered the Pampore institute.
“A squad of suicide attackers was trying to target Srinagar for the past few days. The security forces were looking for them,” one of the officials said on Tuesday.
“Intelligence inputs suggest the attackers failed to breach the security of Srinagar. They tried to mount an attack on the highway leading to Srinagar also.”
The militants are said to be hiding in one corner of the entrepreneurship development institute (EDI), a 3.5-acre campus housing three multi-storey buildings, some 12km from Srinagar and on the crucial highway leading to Jammu.
“The hostel building has around 60 rooms and since the attackers are cornered there, the army decided to wait patiently for the gunmen to exhaust their ammunition.
The army is clearing the rooms one by one. Therefore, the operation is taking time,” the official said.
Sources said two weapons are being fired from the hostel, which could mean that number of attackers. But the final number can be ascertained only after the operation gets over.
The military was exercising utmost caution as three special forces personnel lost their lives during the 50-hour standoff at the institute in February.
Then, the attackers had captured the main office block, close to the highway.
The latest attack raised questions about security in and around the complex.
After the February attack, work tenders were floated for building bunkers around the complex. But the work is yet to begin. All that the authorities did was to build a tin fence on the front.
The Jhelum flows along the rear of complex and the riverside is not fenced, giving easy access to anybody coming by boat to enter the institute. The militants apparently did precisely that.
Why was security not tightened?
“We are not a security installation, but just like a college or a university. One can’t expect us to turn this space into a garrison,” an EDI official said.
A security official echoed similar views, saying there are limits to deploy security personnel outside an educational institute — which means, fewer guards were around.
There were no students in the building when the attackers entered the hostel because of the unrest in the Kashmir Valley, where violent public protests over the killing of a militant leader in July have triggered an unprecedented standoff with the security forces.