| It is an act of cowardice... the brave people of the state would not succumb to them -Sonia Gandhi
Srinagar, May 21: One moment the crowd was cheering the politicians on, the next all 3,000 were on their hands and knees, crawling desperately to safety amid bursting grenades and flying bullets.
The Congress rally at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir park turned into a theatre of terror today after two militants sneaked in, their police uniforms enough to fool the heightened security three days before the Prime Minister’s visit.
Congress workers described how one of the suicide attackers made towards the dais where party leaders were seated and began shooting, while the other tossed grenades into the area and fired in all directions.
“A man in police uniform suddenly stood up and started firing indiscriminately at us. Thank God I have escaped but I don’t know how many are lying injured,” Mohammad Ismail Bhat said.
The firing was from two sides, with the police and paramilitary ringing the venue replying from behind barricades. A two-hour gunbattle left both militants dead after they had killed five people ' two securitymen and three civilians ' and wounded 22. Among them was the Kashmir zone police chief, inspector-general K. Rajendra, who took three bullets in the legs.
“Everybody panicked and ducked. I hid myself behind a huge chinar tree and then I began crawling as the firing continued. I crawled for about 10 minutes till I reach the exit of the park. Then I ran,” Mohammad Yassin said. “Thank God I am alive. It was so close today.”
None of the politicians, who included state Congress chief and cabinet minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, were injured as they scampered off to a building in the park.
Chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had been minutes away from reaching the rally, held to pay homage to the late Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary. A few hours earlier, a galaxy of party leaders, including Sonia Gandhi had prayed at Rajiv Gandhi’s memorial in New Delhi.
In Srinagar, the security forces laid a cordon around the venue, whisking the leaders away to safety in bullet-proof vehicles. It took them more than an hour to evacuate the crowd trapped inside the park, many of them cowering behind the tall chinars.
The Al-Mansooriyan and Lashkar-e-Toiba have claimed responsibility. A militant combine had earlier threatened to disrupt the Prime Minister’s May 24-25 round-table conference with separatists.
“Despite a high alert and despite the warning, the two fidayeen breached the security cordon. There should be a thorough probe,” Congress leader Ghulam Ahmed Mir said.
The dead include constables Farooq Ahmad and Muzaffar Ahmad of the Indian Reserve Police, and civilians Nazir Ahmad of Anantnag and Riyaz Ahmad Khan of Kupwara. Among the injured are two deputy superintendents of police.
The state government has banned all political rallies in the state for the next two days.
Earlier this month, 35 Hindus had been gunned down in a double strike in Doda.