Terror strikes Jammu: 3 gunfights in 26 hours | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Terror strikes Jammu: 3 gunfights in 26 hours

Jun 13, 2024 12:53 AM IST

The spate of attacks sparked a political controversy with the Opposition criticising the government and demanding an explanation

Five soldiers and two police officers were injured in separate encounters on Wednesday after one group of militants attacked a check post in the upper reaches of Doda and another fired at security forces hours later, marking two of the three gunbattles in 26 hours that have rocked Jammu and sent ripples of fear through the region fast becoming the hotbed of cross-border terrorism in the restive Union territory.

Security forces near the site of an encounter between security forces and militants, at Saida village in Kathua's Hiranagar sector. (HT Photo)
Security forces near the site of an encounter between security forces and militants, at Saida village in Kathua's Hiranagar sector. (HT Photo)

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In the first attack on Wednesday, a group of three to four militants opened fire on a joint check post of the 4 Rashtriya Rifles and the Jammu & Kashmir Police in Doda’s Chattargala area on the Bhaderwah-Pathankot road at 1.45am on Wednesday morning. The ensuing gunbattle lasted several hours, leaving five army personnel and a special police officer injured.

Officers said the second attack was in the Kota Top area, 150km away from Chhattargala, when a second group of terrorists attacked a police team and injured head constable Fareed Ahmed.

Roughly 220km away in Kathua raged another gunbattle that began late on Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday morning, leaving one Central Reserve Police Force jawan dead, six security personnel and one civilian injured, and two terrorists neutralised.

The three gunfights came on the heels of an attack on a bus carrying pilgrims in Reasi on Sunday, when armed terrorists opened fire on the vehicle, causing it to lose control and plunge into a gorge, with nine people dead and 42 others injured.

Jammu has suffered at least seven terror attacks over the past year. The spate of attacks sparked a political controversy with the Opposition criticising the government and demanding an explanation, with National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah calling for talks with Pakistan, even as the BJP criticised his stand.

Authorities scrambled to mount a response, pointing to operations to nab the terrorists hiding out in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. “I want you all to have trust in the courage of security forces and J&K police. We will be at ease only after eliminating terrorists and their supporters from J&K,” said lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha.

Senior police officers suggested that Jammu was seeing a shift from “resident terrorism” to “foreign terrorism.” “This means that the numbers of our local boys who used to join the terror ranks have come down. Foreign terrorism is there... as of today 70-80 such terrorists have come with arms and ammunitions,” said director general of police RR Swain.

Without naming Pakistan, additional director general of police Anand Jain said the “hostile” neighbour was always making attempts to disturb peace in the Jammu region.

The exchange of fire began at around 8pm on Tuesday in Saida Sukhal village in the Hiranagar area of Kathua, when two terrorists appeared in the settlement and asked residents for some water. “Panicked by the strangers carrying arms, people raised and alarm and the two terrorists opened fire, injuring a civilian,” a senior police officer said. The civilian has been identified as 45-year-old Omkar Nath, and was rushed to hospital, but is out of danger.

Anand Jain said that as soon as they received information about the presence of terrorists in the village, security teams from multiple agencies rushed to the village and cordoned it off. “The terrorists opened indiscriminate fire to break the security cordon. They appear to have freshly infiltrated,” Jain said.

Senior police officers said that the first terrorist was killed in the village itself, as he was lobbing a grenade at the police party. The second was killed after an extensive search operation and intermittent bursts of fire at around 3.30am. One CRPF jawan, identified as Kabir Dass, was injured, and succumbed to his injuries during treatment.

But even as security officials dealt with the situation in Kathua, there was another attack in Chattargala, Doda on the Bhaderwah-Pathankot road. Senior police officers said that they were still trying to track down the terrorists, with army helicopters pressed into service and traffic on the Bhaderwah-Pathankot highway suspended until further notice. Kashmir Tigers, a group ostensibly linked to the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Shridhar Patil, deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, Doda-Kishtwar-Ramban range, said they received information about the movement of terrorists in the area over the past few days. “Accordingly, temporary posts jointly manned by army and police were set up in the higher reaches along with check points on the (interstate) road,” Patil told reporters on Wednesday.

He said that a sentry at the post on the Chattergala pass first spotted suspicious movement around 1.30am on Wednesday. “The terrorists opened fire and in the ensuing exchange of fire which continued for more than one-and-a-half hours, the deployed personnel fought bravely,” Patil said.

The DIG said there were three to four terrorists but underlined geographical challenges in tracking them down. “We have to move tactically because there is a difference in conducting operations in the plains and mountainous areas. Combing operations in such tough conditions take time, and we have to tread cautiously so as to avoid casualties on our side before neutralising the terrorists,” Patil said.

Police officers said they were cognisant of attempts being made to create unrest in Jammu ahead of the Amarnath Yatra which begins later this month, and assembly elections — the first after the abrogation of Article 370—expected in a few months.

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Security officials also red-flagged an apparent shift in strategy by terrorists from across the border. In July 2023, HT reported that Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi were fast becoming clear targets for Pakistan-based terror groups, and security forces were “recalibrating their responses”.

“The attack on 9 Para SF on May 5 in Rajouri (in which five soldiers were killed) and April 20 ambush on an army truck in Poonch (five personnel killed) were the handiwork of such trained men. They had sophisticated weapons, sticky bombs and the attacks were well planned. Besides, the terrorists are using guerilla warfare tactics. They attack, go back to the jungle in the Pir Panjal area and regroup for another attack, ” a counterterrorism official said at the time.

The three attacks set off a political furore, with Opposition leaders attacking the Centre over the security situation.

“Narendra Modi is busy responding to congratulatory messages and hasn’t been able to hear the cries of the families of devotees who were killed in Jammu and Kashmir. Reasi, Kathua and Doda have seen three separate terror attacks but the Prime Minister is still immersed in celebrations. The country asks — why does the BJP government not catch the people that conspire to commit terror attacks?” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on X.

NC chief Abdullah called for an “understanding” between India and Pakistan.

ALSO READ- Initiate talks with Pak to end terrorism in J&K: Farooq Abdullah

“I have always said that terrorism is not going to end unless there is an understanding between the two nations. Terrorism will continue and we will have to face it. The tragedy is that innocent people are getting killed... and that is unfortunate,” Abdullah told reports in Srinagar.

J&K BJP president Ravinder Raina, however, criticised Abdullah and said his party will “respond to Pakistan in the language understands”.

“Abdullah should stop advocating for Pakistan which has bled Jammu & Kashmir and brought destruction to the region by training, arming and pushing terrorists into this side to kill innocent citizens. Instead of condemning Pakistan, showing it the mirror and exposing its black face to the world, he is advocating dialogue which is highly regrettable,” Raina said.

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