Srinagar, Nov. 2: Srinagar was spared a repeat of the carnage in Delhi, but not before five persons died in a car bomb explosion described as the “first gift to Ghulam Nabi Azad”.
A bomber in a car packed with explosives tried to drive through a checkpost on the busy Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway ' the road the peace bus takes ' not far from the house of outgoing chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, hours before the Congress leader was sworn in.
Police constable Nissar Ahmad signalled to the militant to stop at the Nowgam checkpost in the city, but he did not. “Constable Nissar not only chased the car, but also fired several gunshots at it from his rifle. Probably one of the gunshots hit the explosives inside the vehicle and it exploded,” said Javaid Mukhdoomi, inspector-general of police, Kashmir range.
Nissar, three civilians and the bomber were killed in the blast at 10.15 am.
“I think the car-borne militant had some other target and timely intervention by the police prevented him from causing greater damage,” Mukhdoomi said.
Azad, who took oath in the evening as the first chief minister from outside the Valley, passed through adjoining Hyderpora on way to Centaur Lake View hotel about 10 km away for the swearing-in.
Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes four days after the blasts in Delhi that killed 59 and prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ask Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to “act against terrorism directed at India”.
“The car bomb is our first gift to Ghulam Nabi Azad,” a man identifying himself as Abu Quduma and claiming to be a spokesman of the Pakistan-based militant group told a local news agency. He identified the bomber as Mohammed Mubashir Hussain from Rawalkot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
No independent confirmation of the Pakistan link was available, leaving room for doubt that it could be a ploy by the militants to deepen apprehensions in the country about the peace process and put Musharraf in a spot. In a 10-minute conversation after the Delhi blasts, Singh had indicated that India suspected the involvement of Pakistan-based groups but had given him the benefit of doubt.
For Azad, the blast was a loud signal that he is a marked man. The 56-year-old, seen as something of an outsider in the Valley because he belongs to Jammu and has spent most of his political life outside the state, might now find security detail cramping his efforts to reach out to people here.
Fourteen people were injured in the explosion, which many local residents mistook for an earthquake. “I thought the earth had cracked again as all the window panes in my house were shattered,” said Sajjad Ahmad in Nowgam.