Braving sub-zero temperatures, special squads of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force stormed Srinagar’s Punjab Hotel, killing two Lashkar-e-Tayebba militants on Thursday morning.
But the 22-hour encounter could be the beginning of a fresh wave of violence in the Valley, intelligence officials said in New Delhi. The Intelligence Bureau estimates there are nearly 700 terrorists in the state, half of them Pakistanis. Nearly 110 had entered the Valley over the last year; an equal number died trying to infiltrate.
On Thursday morning, troops engaged the two militants. One of them, identified as Abu Qari of Pakistan, was the first to be killed at 11.13 am. In the 20 minutes that followed, his accomplice, Manzoor Ahmad alias Usmaan from Seeri village in Kashmir’s Baramulla district, was also taken out.
The two terrorists were getting instructions from their handlers to carry out another strike to divert police attention, said an official in Jammu. “The terrorists were constantly conversing on prepaid phones to coordinate their actions.”
Pre-paid phone connections were banned in the state on November 1. But subscribers with existing validity were given a January 29 deadline to exhaust their talk time.
Kashmir DGP Kuldeep Khuda said the two were affiliated to the Lashkar.
On Wednesday, two militant outfits, the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, had claimed responsibility.
Home Ministry officials said the government expected the terrorists to strike again. “Since the terrorists will always have the element of surprise on their side, we have been emphasising to personnel that they should hone their ability to strike back after taking the first hit,” a ministry official said.