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Mosque hostages rescued

Srinagar, Dec. 24: Two civilians held captive by militants in a south Kashmir mosque today managed to sneak away when they were sent to bring in food police had left outside the door.

The duo, Gowhat Bhat and Aadil Najar, were among five persons who had got trapped inside the mosque in Palnu village in Kulgam, some 70 km from Srinagar, on Sunday. Three Hizb-ul Mujahideen militants had rushed in with troops of the 62 Rashtriya Rifles hot on their heels.

The remaining three were rescued in a flush-out operation tonight. Around 10.30pm, the police lobbed tear gas shells at the mosque and briefly opened fire.

Two militants were killed in the crossfire. One is believed to be holed up in the mosque. It is not known yet if the mosque was damaged.

This afternoon, the police and the civil administration made announcements on loudspeaker urging the militants to surrender. Sources said there was no response from the trio, identified as Shiraz, Mudassir and Ali.

Agency reports said the militants had made safe passage a condition to free the civilians. But the police refused to accept their term and tightened the cordon around the mosque.

“We have plenty of time, resources and manpower. We can wait till eternity,” DIG H.K. Lohia said. “The sanctity of the mosque and the lives of the civilians are very important to us.”

The operation was handed over to the special operations group of the police by the army. A civilian and a militant had got injured in a brief exchange of fire on Sunday.

The sources said the civilians were sent out to collect food because the militants refused to let the police emissary inside.

“The civilians fled after coming out of the mosque. Earlier, we had sent the brother of a militant with food for the hostages. But he was not allowed to enter. So, he kept the food near door,” a source said.

Hundreds of villagers have fled Palnu. Forty families have been given shelter by residents of the adjoining Bihibagh village, a police officer said.

In 1995, the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Sheikh ul Alam Sheikh Noor-ud-din was gutted after militants led by Mast Gul took control of Charar-e-Sharief town, prompting the army to launch an operation to flush them out.

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