Srinagar Aug. 27: Militants struck at the heart of the summer capital this evening, minutes after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee kicked off the eighth inter-state council meet at the heavily-guarded international conference centre on the bank of the Dal Lake.
A senior police officer said two fidayeen made an attempt to storm the heavily-guarded headquarters of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, hurling grenades and spraying fire from automatic weapons on the security guards.
Police said one Border Security Force jawan was killed and eight persons, including BSF deputy inspector-general, operations, Des Raj, were seriously injured in the grenade attack and the heavy exchange of fire that followed.
When jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire, the militants ran into a hotel near the main entrance of the BSNL building. Kashmir range police chief, inspector-general K. Rajendra, had a miraculous escape as the militants sprayed fire from inside the hotel, but his security guard was critically injured.
“The two fidayeen opened heavy fire as they entered the hotel building on the CRPF troopers guarding the BSNL headquarters. We have cordoned off the entire area,” said the officer.
The authorities have rushed paramilitary and police reinforcements to the spot and a thick security blanket has been thrown around the civil lines area. No movement is being allowed as troops have engaged the two fidayeen holed up inside the hotel. Roads leading to the city centre have been sealed. Rajendra and other senior police and paramilitary officers are supervising the operation.
Militants also bombed an abandoned house this morning at Karan Nagar, hours before the arrival of the Prime Minister, who was accompanied by his deputy, L.K. Advani.
The two leaders were received at the airport by Jammu and Kashmir governor Lt Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, defence minister George Fernandes and senior army, police and civil officials.
The chief ministers of Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orrisa, Punjab, Bengal, Tripura, Delhi, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh reached here this afternoon. They were escorted to the venue of the two-day meeting under tight security.
The strike called by the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a senior secessionist leader, to protest against Vajpayee’s visit and holding of the inter-state council meet crippled normal life in Srinagar and other towns.
Shops and business establishments remained closed while traffic stayed off the roads.