Terrorists in military fatigues gunned down three army jawans and an equal number of civilians in a fierce gunbattle in Jammu’s Arnia sector, 3km from the International Border (IB), on Thursday. Four of the gunmen were also shot dead and the encounter was still on at the time this paper went to press.
The attack — the worst in Jammu and Kashmir in over a year — came a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled rallies in Udhampur and Poonch districts to campaign for the ongoing assembly elections. It also coincided with the unofficial meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the Saarc summit in Nepal.
“It was a fresh infiltration attempt. The terrorists wanted to strike civilian areas to inflict maximum casualties,” said Jammu IG Rajesh Kumar, though the suggestion was denied by the Border Security Force, the first security tier at the border.
According to police and intelligence agencies, the men — numbering at least five to six — crossed over early in the morning under cover fire provided by Pakistan Rangers. “On reaching Pindi village, 2km from the IB, they changed their clothes. Five salwars (trousers), three kameez (shirts), four pair of shoes and blue belts were recovered from there,” said army spokesperson Colonel Munish Mehta.
Suspicious locals alerted the police and the group, moving on foot, was apprehended at a Territorial Army check-point. But the men didn’t stop, running into an abandoned army bunker nearby where they fired at civilians, killing two and injuring several. A third villager died later. A gunbattle ensued after army, police and paramilitary forces cordoned off the area. The army has moved in heavy artillery to smoke out the remaining terrorists holed up in the bunker, police sources said.
“3 civilians have lost their lives along with 3 army personnel, my condolences to the families. 4 militants have been neutralised,” chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted. “The timing of the attack can’t be a coincidence. Some things will never change, Saarc summit is on, Ind & Pak PMs (sic) at the same venue and a fierce encounter breaks out in Jammu.”
In almost similar fashion last September, terrorists had snuck in across the border and killed 12 people, 10 of them security personnel, in Hiranagar, just 40km from Arnia. That attack, too, had come a day after then PM Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Sharif in the US.
The state — witness this year to the worst cross-border shelling in a decade — was already on alert against terror attacks due to the polls. Intelligence was received as recently as November 21, a day before PM Modi’s rally in Kishtwar, about possible strikes and this was communicated to all security officials.
Arnia, which goes to polls on December 20, had witnessed cross-border violence in October too with five people killed in the firing.
Meanwhile, an infiltration bid was foiled along the Line of Control in Jammu’s Rajouri area and a suspected militant apprehended with an AK-47, a Pakistan-made pistol and Rs 8,100 in Pakistani currency.