The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cell phone saviour in shootout

Srinagar, Oct. 18: The security forces today ended the 24-hour encounter outside the chief minister’s residence by gunning down two militants, but for Heena Rashid, a computer instructor rescued from the shopping complex yesterday, the true victor was the cell phone.

Denied to Jammu and Kashmir on the security plea till this August, the mobile phone played saviour for Heena and seven others trapped inside a computer centre on the third floor of the Dr Ali Jan Shopping Complex.

“I thought it was all over,” said Heena, a woman instructor trapped with six trainees, recounting the eight-hour ordeal before they were brought down by rope ladders.

“I thought something was wrong when we heard sounds of explosions and gunfire followed by slogan-shouting. We pulled down our shutter and took refuge in the middle room. We thought we would die any moment,” Heena said.

Luckily, moments ago the computer centre owner, Mohsin, had stepped in.

“I was praying for some miracle to happen as our phone was dead. Suddenly I saw Mohsin talking on his mobile phone. When I saw him talking to his father, there were tears in my eyes. I thought, now that people outside know we are trapped, help would arrive soon,” she said.

“This mobile phone enabled us to pass the information that I, along with other trainees, was trapped inside the centre. That was the only link we had with the outside world,” she said.

Soon the authorities were alerted and rescue efforts began even as bullets flew. “Someone from outside shouted and a trainee gathered enough courage and came out. Suddenly the firing stopped and we saw policemen asking us to pull up a rope ladder. But we were confused and kept wondering how to pull it up.”

Heena said she had an idea on seeing the long telephone wire lying on the floor. “We tore it and dangled it to pull up the rope ladder. We tied the ladder to a sofa inside the centre and I was asked to get down. As I was dithering another trainee put his life at risk and started climbing down. As he was going down, firing started and I thought he would die. But he shouted and one by one we all came down safely. The policemen escorted us out, but I still couldn’t believe we were alive,” Heena recounted.

With the centre cleared, BSF commandos launched the final assault at first daylight today. As they forced into the third floor, four paramilitary troopers, including an assistant commandant, were injured. In fierce fighting, the commandos killed one militant even as the other kept firing continuously.

Using portable bunkers, the BSF soon neutralised the other fidayeen. Police and BSF personnel searched the complex and lifted the security cordon in the afternoon.

A spokesman of the Al-Mansooriyan outfit called a local news agency and confirmed that its members had been killed while carrying out the attack.

On the third-floor of the shopping complex today lay the bullet-riddled signboard of the Hack Tack Computer Centre amid shards of glass — a testimony to the perilous situation those trapped inside were in yesterday.

“Sometimes we saw movement inside the training centre that could have prompted our boys to shoot,” said a police officer.

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