| CRPF men escort one of their injured colleagues in the hotel attack. (Reuters)
Srinagar, July 28: An eight-hour gun battle in a hotel on the Dal Lake — the hub of Kashmir tourism — left five CRPF men and two militants dead.
The fidayeen had sneaked into the hotel compound, where a CRPF camp is located, through the window of an adjoining building when off-duty soldiers were engrossed in the nail-biting India-Sri Lanka match last evening.
Armed with assault rifles and grenades, the militants killed a constable and a sub-inspector on patrol duty before a sentry posted outside the hotel gunned down one of them. The other sneaked into the first floor of the three-storeyed hotel and opened fire on securitymen glued to the television.
The militant is then reported to have taken cover in a bathroom, from where he continued to fire. CRPF troops, who took position in houseboats surrounding the hotel, fired back. Early this morning, the CRPF stormed the building and blasted the bathroom wall to kill the militant.
“We almost spent a sleepless night. Deafening sounds of gunfire and explosions shook us and a group of pilgrims from Punjab staying in my houseboat,” said Abdul Rashid Wangnoo. “They had returned from the pilgrimage only in the afternoon.”
“We are used to this but my guests were not. So I and my family members kept reassuring them. Thank god no tourist was injured. We were relaxing on the terrace of the houseboat when it all started.”
The hotel, located on an isle, adjoins houseboats popular with tourists. Various battalions of the CRPF have set up camp at a number of hotels on the Dal Lake to secure the area for tourists. Almost all the luxury hotels are located on the banks of the lake.
“I suddenly heard the sound of an explosion, followed by heavy gunfire, which continued for nearly seven minutes. After that, there was a lull and then late in the night, the fighting resumed,” said Mohammad Ramzan, a shikarawallah.
A militant group called Al-Mansurian telephoned newspaper offices late on Tuesday night, saying three of its members had launched the attack. Police said they were not sure whether there was a third militant involved.
“The operation has ended. We killed the two fidayeen who attacked the hotel,” said S.S. Rawat, the CRPF inspector- general.