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Terror strike with poison in tail

July 22: Militants struck twice at an army camp today, killing a brigadier more than seven hours after the first attack at dawn claimed seven soldiers and beguiled senior officers into believing that the worst was over.

Besides the slain brigadier, three generals were among the injured in the second attack when the third fidayeen crept up on his target — a group of senior officers inspecting the attack site — and blew himself up.

The suicide attacks on the camp at Tanda, near Akhnoor, began at 5.30 this morning when two militants stormed the army’s electrical and mechanical engineering unit, 30 km from Jammu, hurling grenades and firing wildly.

Seven soldiers, part of the unit that mans the Akhnoor sector, were killed in the exchange of fire that lasted more than three hours before the two fidayeen were shot dead.

The sector is particularly strategic. This is where a piece of Pakistan juts into Indian territory. Of late, the army has been reporting infiltration here.

The second attack, around 1.15 pm, came as the officers were being given a briefing on the militant strike. Reports suggest that the militant was a patient assassin who hid in the tall elephant grass to claim bigger “kills” than jawans.

Brigadier V.K. Govil, head of the electrical and mechanical engineers branch in the northern army command, died on the way to hospital after the militant, strapped with grenades, blew himself up on the officers. Among those injured were Lt Gen. Hari Prasad, the northern army commander, Lt Gen. T.P.S. Brar, commander of the 16 Corps, Maj. Gen. Khanna, major general, general services, of the northern army command.

The casualties are one of the biggest military reversals for any armed force anywhere in the world even during war. The officers injured or killed are some of the most experienced in the army. Lt Gen. Hari Prasad was director-general, infantry, before being posted as northern army commander earlier this year. Regional army commanders are equivalent in rank to the vice-chief of army staff.

Why so many officers should have been at the same spot at the same time in the troubled state is not known. Standard operating procedures dictate commanders should travel separately.

Asked why the officers were bunched up, officials in army headquarters said: “Our senior officers also lead from the front and encourage jawans.”

Security agencies claimed that the Lashkar-e-Toiba was behind the attack on the army camp and the lesser-known militant outfit, al Shuhda Brigade, which claimed responsibility, was a shadow group of the Lashkar.

The attack was carried out to protest visiting Pakistani opposition leader Fazl-ur Rehman’s remarks that the Line of Control should be converted into a permanent border and the Kashmir issue should be resolved within the framework of the Simla Agreement, a handwritten press release faxed by the outfit said.

Al Shuhda Brigade wants to make Rehman realise that his statements would have no bearing on jihad in Kashmir, the outfit said.

The army has cut off all routes leading to Akhnoor as it suspects there are more suicide attackers hiding in the area. There are also intercepts that several militant groups have recently infiltrated from across the border.

Defence minister George Fernandes will reach the site of the attack tomorrow morning for an on-the-spot study of the situation. British foreign secretary Jack Straw telephoned his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha to condemn the attacks, the foreign ministry said.

The twin attacks, the biggest since the June 28 strike on the army’s Sunjwan camp on the outskirts of Jammu killed more than a dozen soldiers, came as authorities were taking stock of the situation after yesterday’s late-evening assault killed seven Vaishno Devi pilgrims.

Today, Union minister of state for home Swami Chinmayanand, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and senior police officers visited Banganga, where the militants had killed the pilgrims.

The chief minister described these attacks as an expression of the frustration of the militants and told reporters that security will be strengthened along the pilgrimage route. Several towns in Jammu observed a complete shutdown to protest against the attack on the devotees.

The pilgrims, however, resumed their journey chanting hymns. “Come what may, we will go for the pilgrimage,” said Kharaiti Lal, a resident of Jalandhar, Punjab.

Jai Mata Dai,” shouted others, hailing the Goddess Vaishno Devi, as they continued their trek to the shrine.

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