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Advani, Congress trade fire

New Delhi/Jammu, Nov. 25: The horrors of yesterday’s attack on the Raghunath shrine were revived this morning when a second militant was killed in a gun battle with security forces close to the nearby Shiva temple.

As important visitors, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, streamed into Jammu today, a controversy erupted over whether the new Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government had kept Delhi posted on the release of militants that the BJP is now blaming for the Raghunath temple attack.

Sonia said it was a “misunderstanding” that the state government was setting free militants unilaterally. “All these actions are being taken with the approval of the central intelligence agencies,” she said. Her party is a partner in the Mufti coalition.

In the Lok Sabha, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani categorically said the Centre was not consulted by the state government.

He said the Union home secretary had written a letter to the state asking it not to act in haste while releasing militants and emphasising that the Centre should be consulted on such issues.

When Congress leader Shivraj Patil insisted that central intelligence outfits were consulted, Advani said the role of these agencies should not be discussed in the House.

“Neither do I bring them (intelligence agencies) nor others should do it,” he said.

Privately, Congress leaders said there was no difference between the Centre and central intelligence agencies, which report to the home ministry.

Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy said: “To the best of our knowledge, the Centre was constantly kept informed. The government of India was in touch with the J&K government. Those released were released after due consultations with the Centre.”

When Reddy’s attention was brought to Advani’s statement that the home secretary had written a letter to Mufti asking him not to release so many militants, he said he was “reasonably sure” about his stand. Reddy added that his information was based on the feedback from the state government.

In his statement in both Houses of Parliament, Advani said the attack was carried out by the Al Mansooran group, a front of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Last night’s assumption that the attack had ended with the death of a militant in the Raghunath temple proved wrong as another was spotted hiding in a cowshed by police near a temple about 400 metres away. He was shot after a nearly two-hour exchange, raising the toll to 13. Sources said he is the same man the security forces had thought they had shot in a building near the Shiva temple.

A slain auto-rickshaw driver had been mistaken for the assailant earlier. Jammu special superintendent of police Farooq Khan clarified that two militants had been killed — one at Raghunath temple in the night and another this morning.

Sonia, who visited the hospital where the injured have been admitted, said the Congress would “stand as one with the Central and the state government in the fight against terrorism”.

“Don’t dare accuse the Congress party of being soft on terrorism. I have lost two members of my family because of it,” she rasped at the insinuation that there was a change in her party’s role in the battle against militancy.

 

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