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Kashmir familiar with style of Mumbai attacks

"What Mumbai has seen recently, Kashmir has been living with for years," Abdul Hamid tells the Indian tourist as he guides him through Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2008 07:59 IST

"What Mumbai has seen recently, Kashmir has been living with for years," Abdul Hamid tells the Indian tourist as he guides him through Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

Hamid's tour takes in several areas where gutted buildings testify to past attacks by the Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba -- the prime suspect behind last week's shocking assault on Mumbai that left 188 dead.

The group has denied its involvement.

Lashkar, the most powerful outfit fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, first came into the spotlight when its fighters launched an attack on a border guard camp in 1999, killing officers and soldiers.

The attack was unusual for what was to become a Lashkar trademark -- the use of what it called "fidayeen" squads who would blast their way into high-security installations carrying backpacks full of ammunition.

Essentially they were suicide squads, who would find a place to hunker down and then fight until they were eventually killed by overwhelming firepower.

Although the same modus operandi was employed by the militants who attacked Mumbai, Lashkar is more known for hitting security targets than civilians.

"In our view this was a suicide mission," Mumbai police chief Hassan Gafoor said of last week's assault by 10 Islamist militants on multiple targets in India's financial capital.

Police files record 90 "fidayeen" attacks in Kashmir since 1999.

Lashkar was also blamed for an audacious 2001 assault on the Indian parliament, after which it was designated a "terrorist organisation" by both Pakistan and the United States.

Fidayeen attacks died down after India and Pakistan started a peace process in 2004, but the events in Mumbai stirred some unpleasant memories.

"I felt the pain and agony of the people who were holed up in Mumbai," said Shabir Ahmed, who jumped from the first storey of a high-security federal income tax office that was attacked by two fidayeen gunmen in Srinagar several years ago.

One of Ahmed's colleagues died in the attack.

Other targets have included the state legislature, a federal passport office, a radio station, state and federal information departments, a divisional commissioner's office and a tourist reception center.

"You can't do much to stop such attacks as the people involved are willing to die," said a Muslim police officer in Srinagar.

Some measures were taken. Large metal gates that could be raised and lowered were placed at the entrances to vital installations and machine gun-mounted lookout points were erected.

"Initially we were not prepared for such attacks," said Prabhakar Tripathi, a senior federal police officer.

"We had never expected a militant to shoot his way into a fortified camp. It was something new, and something very surprising," he said.

"We tried to make the camps as impregnable as we could. We also worked tirelessly on intelligence gathering, that helped a lot."

Since the insurgency in Kashmir began in 1989, government troops have gunned down more than 20,000 militants. In all more than 47,000 people have died in the region, according to official statistics.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, where most people favour independence from mainly Hindu India or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.