Srinagar, June 12: Kashmirs reinvention as a tourist paradise came under threat today with militants tossing a grenade into a hotel packed with holiday-makers, killing four and injuring at least 18.
An eight-year-old girl was among those killed in the explosion in the hotel in Pahalgam, one of the most picturesque and popular tourist destinations in the Valley.
Among the injured is a tourist, Daljit Kumar, from Calcutta. Several holiday-makers from Bengal have joined the rush to visit Kashmir, which had virtually fallen off the tourism map after the flare-up in insurgency in the early nineties.
The grenade attack came in the middle of an upswing in the number of visitors to Kashmir (see chart), fuelled by the thaw in India-Pakistan relations and marked by revival of the famed love affair between locales in the Valley and Bollywood. In May alone, the Valley had clocked 50,000 visitors, a stunning turnaround from the paltry 6,000 for the whole of 1991.
The militants struck this afternoon when the tourists were having lunch at Purnima Hotel in Pahalgam, 80 km from Srinagar.
Kashmir range police chief, inspector-general K. Rajendra, said the condition of some of the injured is serious. Thirteen wounded tourists were shifted late this evening to the Soura medical institute. Security has been beefed up in all resorts in the state.
Those killed in the blast have been identified as Bhavesh, son of Chanderkant from Mumbai, and Danish Halwai and Mustakaleem Halwai from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh. The child was not identified till late tonight.
A little-known group, Al-Nasreen, phoned a local news agency and claimed responsibility for the blast, saying it was carried out to warn tourists. A person who claimed to be a spokesman of the group said tourists were spreading vulgarity.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said the incident was a conspiracy to target the interests of Kashmir and its people and bring the place into disrepute.