BLAST RIPS HEART OUT OF PEACE 

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By FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR AND MUKHTAR AHMAD in Srinagar
  • Published 10.08.00
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Srinagar, Aug. 10 :     Hizbul Mujahideen militants tore the peace talks to shreds within 48 hours of scrapping their ceasefire, killing 15 and injuring 30 others in daytime attacks throughout the Valley today. They made their most lethal strike in the heart of Srinagar with a remote-controlled car-bomb explosion that killed 13 and injured 30 others, some of them critically. Militants also hurled grenades in three other downtown areas of Srinagar and opened fire on a BSF patrol in Baramulla, killing one jawan. A civilian is also reported killed in the exchange of fire that followed the Baramulla ambush. The Hizbul Mujahideen owned responsibility for today's attacks in a statement from Islamabad. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, another Pakistan-based militant outfit which was against any talks with New Delhi, has also claimed responsibility for the attacks. A Lashkar spokesman telephoned a local news agency, CNS, and claimed that an Ambassador car of J& K Bank, forcibly taken by its activists, was used in the blast. However, in Islamabad, Hizbul Mujahideen spokesman Saleem Hashmi claimed the responsibility for the attacks. The Hizbul's strikes have virtually detonated the peace talks. As incident after incident shook Srinagar, the focus appears to have shifted from talks to hostilities. Though not taken by surprise by the renewed militant violence, the state administration and the security forces have been rattled by the sporadic strikes. Chief minister Farooq Abdullah condemned the attacks but said they were expected. However, he held only the Lashkar-e-Toiba responsible for the attacks and refrained from blaming Hizbul, which too has claimed responsibility, perhaps in the hope that some of their commanders will still come overground. The car bomb went off a little past noon opposite the Kothi Bagh police/paramilitary garrison along the high-security Residency Road, the city's main artery. Most of those blown in the blast were policemen and paramilitary personnel. The Hindustan Times photographer Pradeep Bhatia, who had arrived from New Delhi yesterday, was also killed. Several still and video cameramen, who had converged at Kothi Bagh alerted by a grenade blast that preceded the car bomb, were critically injured. They include CNN producer Suhasini, Zee News cameraman Irfan and Reuters photographer Fayaz Kabli. Senior policemen, including SP (Srinagar East) Pankaj Dard and the SHO Kothi Bagh, Altaf Ahmed, were reported to be in a critical state at the Badami Bagh Army hospital. Kuldeep Sharma, DSP of Kothi Bagh, was killed in the blast. The bomb was planted in a white Ambassador car (JK01 9009) with fake J&K Bank markings and parked in a narrow lane opposite the Kothi Bagh police station. Police and media personnel had converged on a spot close to the explosive-laden car when the bomb was set off. The explosion tore into several adjoining vehicles and shattered windowpanes as far as 500 metres away. The explosion, though widely expected after the Hizbul's Pakistan-based bosses called off the ceasefire on August 8, sent terror and tension rippling down Srinagar. Even as the explosion was reverberating, security personnel cordoned off the area and shops and other establishments in the Srinagar's commercial hub downed shutters.