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Marathon gunfight in Mufti home hit

Srinagar, Oct. 17: A two-member suicide squad struck at the home of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed this morning, lobbing grenades and opening fire on the fortified building in the heart of Srinagar.

Mufti had left the house before the 10 am attack, but his daughter Mehbooba and other family members were in. None of them was hurt.

Two BSF troopers manning Gate No. 2 of Mufti’s official residence were shot dead, but other guards thwarted the fidayeen attempt to storm the house.

The militants then raced into a hotel across the street and later into the adjacent Dr Ali Jan Shopping Complex — a three-storeyed building housing shops, offices and a parking lot — where they were holed up.

More than 14 hours later, soldiers and police were still battling the rebels.

On his return to the capital in the evening, the chief minister said “violent incidents have happened in the past and may occur here and there in future as well, but cannot succeed in subverting the peace process”.

In New Delhi, deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani said: “The attack... is one more evidence that the problem of cross-border terrorism continues.”

Advani said the Pakistan-based al-Mansoorian militant group had claimed responsibility, but there was no independent confirmation. Two little known groups, Farzandan-e-Milat and al Nasireen, also claimed responsibility.

The operation to flush out the two militants from the shopping mall was hamstrung by the presence of several civilians.

Security forces could go full throttle only in the evening, after seven computer students — the last civilians trapped inside — were rescued from the top floor with the help of a rope ladder. The Rashtriya Rifles, the BSF and state police jawans stormed the complex after the evacuation.

The militants had exchanged fire with the troops through the day. Several security officials and jawans and two photojournalists were injured. The dead were identified as BSF head constable Rajinder Singh and constable Sriram Gopal.

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