An army helicopter takes off for surveillance from the air during the encounter between ground forces and the militants in the 16 Cavalry armoured unit camp at Samba in Jammu on Thursday. (PTI)
Srinagar, Sept. 26: Three militants today stormed a police station and an army camp in Jammu, killing a lieutenant colonel and nine others before being gunned down, three days before scheduled talks between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan.
Intelligence officials said the militants, who had apparently sneaked in from Pakistan last night and travelled 30km within India on an auto, truck and a van, lacked specific targets.
They said the militants —described as teenagers in a PTI report — asked the drivers to take them to “any” security force installation, suggesting they had no clue about the local geography.
They were shot dead after a nine-hour battle inside the army camp in Samba district of Jammu.
By then, they had killed Lt Colonel Bikramjeet Singh of the 16 Cavalry unit and critically injured the commanding officer, Colonel A. Uthaiah. Their other victims included four policemen, three army jawans, a shopkeeper and the cleaner of a truck who was brave enough to resist them.
The little-known Shohada Brigade, suspected to be a Lashkar-e-Toiba front, called news agencies in Srinagar and claimed responsibility.
Chief minister Omar Abdullah said the “dastardly” attacks were aimed at derailing the talks scheduled between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York on Sunday.
He said it would be wrong to speculate whether Pakistan’s elected leadership knew of the attack plot.
“We have seen that even when (then President) General Pervez Musharraf was committed to the dialogue process, there were forces who tried to derail this process,” he said.
Mohan Lal Kaith, subdivisional police officer at Chadwal in Kathua district, where the police station was attacked, said the militants crossed the Pakistan border near the BSF’s Paharpur outpost last night.
“They did not travel at night and appear to have hidden in the forests. When the (BSF patrol’s) night shift ended, they travelled 5km on foot up to Hariyachek village early in the morning,” Kaith told The Telegraph.
The thick jungles along the route would have provided cover. Kaith said the militants hailed an auto at the village. “Auto driver Roshan Lal thought they were CRPF men as they wore combat fatigues.”
A PTI report quoted Lal as saying the militants spoke chaste Urdu and their shoes had fresh mud stuck to them.
Police sources said the militants stopped near the Hiranagar jail, possibly intending to attack it, but were probably deterred by its high walls.
“They got off the auto near Hiranagar police station and shot and injured Roshan Lal,” an official said. The attackers killed the four cops present at the police station and a shopkeeper they found outside.
They then hijacked a truck parked outside the police station and demanded to be taken to any security force installation. They shot cleaner Feroz Ahmed, a south Kashmir native, when he refused.
Driver Md Arif then hit the highway with the militants, heading towards the army’s 16 Cavalry unit — part of the 9 Corps headquartered in Himachal Pradesh — at Samba, 20km away.
A short distance ahead of the camp, the attackers got off the truck and boarded a van. It’s not clear whether they hijacked the van.
That they could travel such a long distance without being noticed and later storm the army camp without much resistance has raised questions about the official claim that an alert was sounded after the first attack.
Police sources said the militants rushed towards the officers’ quarters, lobbed grenades and fired at the sentry before barging in. They later took shelter in the officers’ mess and started firing on the troops.
“After they entered the camp, the army started an operation inside. Other forces including the police and CRPF and army (reinforcements) sealed the camp from outside,” Jammu police chief Rajesh Kumar said. “The operation is over. We have killed all three militants.”
Lt Colonel Singh and two jawans were killed on the spot and a third jawan died later in hospital. The commanding officer and another jawan are being treated in hospital.
Omar rushed to Jammu and met the families of some of the victims.
“They (militants) have always tried to derail any peace process that is sought to be initiated. This is another step in that direction,” he said in Srinagar.