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12 soldiers killed in camp strike

Jammu, June 28: Two militants stormed an army camp on the outskirts of Jammu, killing 12 soldiers and wounding seven in a pre-dawn attack before being shot dead.

The assault on the camp in Sunjwan came on the last day of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s official visit to Jammu and Kashmir, his first trip to the state since assuming office.

Brigadier B.S. Jind said the militants, who lobbed grenades and sprayed automatic fire to gain entry, targeted a barrack where soldiers were sleeping. The initial burst, which took the guards by surprise, killed six soldiers, while six more died in the subsequent exchange of fire.

Both the militants were killed after a four-hour gun battle inside the camp, which runs parallel to the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway bypass, the brigadier added.

Jind said the element of surprise was the reason behind the high casualty figure. The attackers had taken shelter in a bushy area before cutting their way through barbed wire into the camp between 4.30 and 5 in the morning as most of the soldiers slept.

“I heard two big bangs that were followed by firing,” 38-year-old mechanic Abdul Majid, who lives near the camp, said. “I thought the army must be conducting a routine exercise.”

While one of the attackers was killed in the first hour of the encounter, his associate kept on firing till 9.15, an army spokesman said. “Leads on the terrorists and their linkages are being followed up. The terrorists entered the army camp dressed in army uniform,” the spokesman said.

The assault, the first such since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s hand of friendship to Pakistan at a Srinagar rally in April, came as a chilling reminder of the attack on the Kaluchak camp last May. More than 30 soldiers, their wives and children were killed in that strike.

Soon after the encounter, a bomb disposal squad carried out an extensive search of the entire area near the barracks and defused three grenades thrown by the militants. Two AK-47 rifles with Pakistani markings and carrying Lashkar-e-Toiba symbols, 470 rounds of ammunition, 23 grenades, some explosive material and Rs 1,800 in Pakistani currency were recovered from the militants, the sources added.

A lesser-known militant outfit called al Nasreen claimed responsibility for the attack. A person named Abu Salim Mehmood, who claimed to be the spokesman of the outfit, called up the PTI office here from Srinagar to say al Nasreen militants had carried out the attack. But neither police nor the army could point to the identity of the militants.

Union minister of state for defence Chaman Lal Gupta, who visited the army camp later, laid wreaths on the bodies of the dead soldiers. “It is sad. It shows the frustration of militants,” Gupta said.

In Delhi, senior home ministry officials said though the government has taken a serious view of the fidayeen (suicide) attack, it does not yet have the potential to derail the peace process that India has initiated.

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