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Minister killed in pro-poll pocket

Sept. 11: Militants chose September 11 to send a chilling message against elections in Jammu and Kashmir, mowing down law minister Mushtaq Ahmed Lone and 15 others in two strikes.

The 44-year-old Lone, a former home minister and a close confidant of Farooq Abdullah, was killed instantly when a gunman hiding in a crowd opened fire as he got out of his bullet-proof car this afternoon to campaign in Kupwara’s Tekipora village.

The attack comes at a time when voters were beginning to show interest in the polls in Kupwara, where the family of assassinated moderate leader Abdul Gani Lone has fielded dummy candidates.

The gunman, who fled, emptied a second magazine into workers of the National Conference and securitymen, killing six. “The killer made it certain that all the bullets must hit Lone sahib,” his elder brother, Gulam Mohiydin Lone, said.

A little-known outfit called Al-Arifeen as well as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hours after Lone’s assassination, nine people, including five BSF personnel, were killed when militants lobbed a grenade and fired at a bus stop close to a Congress election rally at Surankote in Poonch. The rally was attended by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni.

The strikes, barely five days before the elections get underway, were the biggest since militants called for their boycott and threatened contestants and voters with death. Last week, Abdul Rehman Sheikh, an Independent candidate, was killed.

Militants also hurled a grenade at the residence of the minister of state for tourism, Sakina Itoo, in Anantnag district, but there was no casualty, official sources said.

Following the strikes, the army has been put on high alert again on the International Border and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Sources said leave has been cancelled and units asked to deploy all their manpower. Defence minister George Fernandes has left for Srinagar to review the situation.

Omar Abdullah, president of the ruling National Conference, blamed Pakistan for Lone’s murder. “Militants and their patrons in Pakistan were unnerved by the enthusiasm of the people to participate in the elections and so they are resorting to such dastardly acts,” he said.

Chief minister Farooq Abdullah hoped that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, now in New York, would take up the issue of cross-border terrorism with world leaders and the UN.

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