| The police vehicle in flames after the shootout. (Reuters)
Srinagar, July 29: Srinagar’s heart was left convulsing after a daring attack this evening, igniting a fierce gunbattle to smoke out militants holed up in a hotel.
Appearing out of nowhere at Lal Chowk that was bustling with shoppers, commuters and tourists, fidayeen threw grenades and opened fire on a police post before setting off a powerful explosion at the information department office, just metres away.
A CRPF jawan was killed and at least 20 people, including three civilians, 10 security personnel and seven journalists, were wounded. Sources said a Sahara TV cameraman Muzaffar, who was hit in the abdomen, is in a critical condition.
Panicky people ran helter-skelter in an effort to flee the crowded commercial hub as shopkeepers downed shutters and took cover behind the stocks in their shops.
A passing police escort vehicle blew up in flames after a grenade landed on it. A BSF armoured vehicle at a bus stand close to the Dashnami Akhra temple was fired at.
When securitymen returned fire, the attackers rushed into a nearby Gujarati hotel, around which a tight cordon has been laid. Paramilitary forces suspect more militants could be hiding in other buildings as bursts of gunfire were coming from many directions.
In minutes of the flames and smoke rising, the area took on the look of a ghost town. All that could be seen were mobile bullet-proof bunkers and swarms of securitymen.
“Bullets were raining from all sides. I didn’t know where to run for cover. I somehow managed to hide inside a shop. I finally gathered courage to jump out and run as far away from the site as my crumbling legs could carry me,” said Mehraj-ud-Din, a shopkeeper.
A police officer said efforts were under way to flush out the militants. “We have surrounded the area, evacuated the injured and barred civilian movement to ensure minimum damage to civilian life.
“Now we are moving in to finish the encounter as the militants, whose exact number is not known, are holed up in the hotel. We have plugged all exit points.”
However, operations had to be later suspended for the night as it got dark.
Militant groups Al-Mansuriyan and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen have claimed responsibility for the attack, agencies said.
Cable channels in Srinagar and other towns have gone on the blink with cable operators protesting against the killing of two colleagues last night.
Hilal Ahmed Sheikh was shot dead and his associate Mehrajuddin critically wounded in an attack in Nowgam on the outskirts of Srinagar.
A cameraman associated with a cable operator, Riyaz Ahmad Dar, was killed in Tral.