The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Living in fear: strike to bandh On knife-edge, courtesy VHP

Ahmedabad, Sept. 25: A day after the militant strike, fear of terror spilled out of the blood-splattered walls of the temple complex as Gujarat braced for Thursday’s bandh sponsored by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Operation Akshardham, which lasted 8 hours 45 minutes and left two militants and three commandos dead, ended the siege of Swaminarayan temple at dawn.

But as security forces pulled out of the temple after the operation, an army brigade of about 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers moved into sensitive areas in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad, taut with apprehension of retaliatory communal violence.

The VHP has refused to give any assurance that the Bharat bandh will be peaceful. “If their (people’s) resentment is not properly channelised, there will be widespread and large-scale violence,” warned secretary Surendra Jain, who is also the Bajrang Dal convener.

Riots had broken out across Gujarat during the last Bharat bandh called by the VHP after the Godhra carnage. The outfit’s general secretary, Praveen Togadia, today urged Hindus not to feel guilty about those riots, which had killed about a thousand people. “I cannot say that (there will be no violence) because I am not an astrologer,” he added.

Though the BJP has not declared its support for the bandh, the VHP is taking it for granted. “The BJP has not opposed the bandh either,” said a senior leader. “So long as the BJP does not oppose us, we take their silence as support,” he added.

The state Cabinet met today to review law and order as fear gripped the minority community on the eve of the bandh.

Revenge for the Gujarat riots was the motive for the attack on the Swaminarayan temple, according to a letter found in the pocket of one of the militants. The letter said the two men were members of Tehreek-e-Kasas (movement for revenge), an outfit that has not been heard of before.

At 6.40 pm yesterday, about two hours after the gunmen stormed the temple, the National Security Guard unit at Manesar in Haryana was told to get on the job. Not much later, the commandos landed at Ahmedabad airport and were on their way to the temple. A recce was through by 10 pm.

Though the complex was well lit and the commandos were equipped with night-vision devices, they had trouble making their way through the dense foliage without being detected.

“Even till early morning we didn’t know exactly how many terrorists were holed up inside the temple and how many were being held hostage,” said Brigadier Raj Seetapathy, who led the NSG operation.

Seetapathy was trying to ascertain if a policeman lying near the entrance was still alive when the gunmen opened fire on him, giving away their whereabouts.

By 3.30 am, the operation was in full swing. The attackers had lobbed most of the 25 grenades they used and were running out of ammunition.

Seetapathy sent his commandos in three directions, encircling the militants. One group forced the militants to vacate their position on the rooftop, while other commandos lay in wait for them to come down. Rushing down for cover, the gunmen hid behind the AC plant. The time was 6.45 am. The commandos surrounded the plant.

With no escape route, the militants locked themselves in a bathroom. The commandos waited till the militants, tired of being locked inside, came out shooting indiscriminately. A volley of bullets felled them immediately. Daylight had just broken when the siege ended.

As many as 160 persons, trapped in the complex overnight, were ushered out. Seventy had bolted themselves inside the temple while 90 hid in the exhibition halls.

A commando from the NSG and two from the State Reserve Police died in the operation. “The terrorists were well-trained and prepared for a very long haul,” Seetapathy said. “The attack was very similar to the December 13 attack on Parliament. Perhaps, they had plans of taking in hostages also.”

n See Pages 6 and 8

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