S R I N A G A R, India, Aug. 10, 2000 -- Ten people were killed and 24 were wounded by a powerful bomb blast in Indian Kashmir today as a guerrilla group that had held peace talks with New Delhi only last week returned to violence.
Hizbul Mujahideen, which called off a brief but unprecedented ceasefire earlier this week, claimed responsibility for the bomb which went off in a car outside a bank in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.
The pro-Pakistan group said in a statement faxed to Reuters in Islamabad that bigger military operations would be carried out in the insurgency-plagued Himalayan state if India persisted with its “traditional intransigence.”
It was the first major attack since Hizbul Mujahideen — blaming New Delhi for refusing to engage with arch-foe Pakistan on the future of Kashmir — on Tuesday ended its 15-day-old truce and urged its cadres back into the fray.
A government official in New Delhi said eight police officers, a photojournalist and a shopkeeper died in the blast, which wrecked vehicles, damaged buildings and sent sheets of metal flying through the air in the heart of the city.
The wounded included security force personnel and seven photojournalists.
‘Huge Flame Explosion’
“It was a huge flame … explosion, I only remember some security men who were burning in flames running toward me. I heard several gunshots, after that I fell unconscious,” said Habib Naqash of the Asian Age newspaper.
Naqash, Bilal Butt of Asian News International and Reuters photographer Fayaz Kabli were among the journalists who were wounded in the explosion.
Doctors said Kabli was suffering from shock and had splinter injuries in one leg, but was out of danger.
The bomb, which went off in an Indian-made Ambassador car, was believed to have been triggered by remote control.
Witnesses said the explosion came five minutes after a grenade attack at around 12.30 p.m (0700 GMT). Many of the security personnel and journalists who had rushed to the site of the grenade attack were then caught in the blast.
“When I went to the spot along with colleagues, we saw a crater where the grenade had hit,” one journalist said.
“We were being briefed by policemen when a big bang took place and blinded my eyes. Then I saw people running helter-skelter and I saw colleagues bleeding.”
In a nearby hospital, people wept for the loss of New Delhi-based photojournalist Pradeep Bhatia.
India says it is ready to talk to any outfit that gives up violence and its door is still open for Hizbul Mujahideen.
Peace Talks Failed Over Pakistan
The sticking point with Hizbul Mujahideen was New Delhi’s refusal to include Islamabad in the peace process.
New Delhi accuses its neighbor of sponsoring the militancy. Islamabad says it provides only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people’s struggle for self-determination.
As violence flared in the restive region, police said nine people including seven separatist guerrillas, were killed and 14 wounded in other shootouts and explosions across Kashmir.
Police said one person was killed and eight wounded when militants fired on a security patrol in Baramulla, 54 km (33 miles) north of Srinagar.
Indian security men also shot dead three militants in a gun battle in Kupwara district, 87 km (54 miles) northwest of Srinagar, police said. They said the dead included a Hizbul Mujahideen militant.
Nearly a dozen militant groups are fighting the rebellion against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir, in which at least 30,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives.
Police said they had beefed up security in Kashmir after they arrested a militant with explosives, grenades, pistols and a crude bomb programmed for the country’s Independence Day on August 15, a day when militant attacks tend to surge.