| A policeman in front of the Srinagar hotel. (AFP)
Srinagar, Aug. 28: The gun battle that kept India’s ruling elite awake through the night ended early today with smoke billowing out of the hotel where the militants had taken shelter after trying to storm the BSNL headquarters.
Police officials said a pro-government militant leader-turned-politician, Javed Ahmad Shah, was among four persons killed in the gunfight. Nine others, including the deputy inspector general, operations, of the Border Security Force were seriously wounded.
The police recovered the body of a militant charred beyond recognition and one half-burnt AK-47 rifle from the debris of Hotel Greenway, which was shelled by security forces the whole of last night. The hotel is less than half-a-kilometre from the residence of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Earlier, the authorities believed that two fidayeen were holed up inside. “We recovered the body of only one militant during the mop-up operation,” a police official said.
The 14-hour exchange in the heart of the city’s high-security zone triggered panic, forcing the summer capital to shut down. The boom of gunfire and explosions also kept awake the high-profile guests — including chief ministers and officials accompanying them to the inter-state council meeting — at the nearby Broadway hotel. They left for their respective destinations immediately after the meet ended.
“On a psychological level, it makes little difference whether you live in fortified accommodations or in unprotected areas. The boom of guns and the loud explosions don’t allow you to sleep in either situation,” said a Kashmir watcher.
The flare-up also belied the hope that Kashmir was returning to normal after years of bloodshed. “We were told that the militants’ capacity for lightning strikes had been blunted by security forces. This incident has exploded that claim as a myth,” said Mehraj-ud-Din, a fruit seller.
An embarrassed state administration is saying revenge was the motive behind yesterday’s strike and the target was Shah, whose body was recovered from the rubble along with the bodies of his personal security officer and a civilian. “Shah was the target and not the central telegraph office,” a police officer said.
“The militants wanted to kill him and also carry out a strike which could be the talking point for the press, shifting the focus away from the inter-state council,” said an official.
Shah, who came overground a few years ago and helped the police by giving information on many of his former militant colleagues, was working in his office in the Hotel Greenway when he was attacked.