SRINAGAR: Three soldiers including a young captain were killed and five others injured, two of them critically, in a pre-dawn militant fidayeen attack on an army camp in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.
Two attackers were also killed in army’s retaliatory firing while a civilian died in security forces firing on protestors demanding bodies of the militants near the camp.
An army official said heavily armed militants wearing black pathani suit and combat jackets attacked the well fortified army’s artillery camp at Panzgam area in border district of Kupwara, some 10 kms from Line of Control (LoC) and 100 kms from Srinagar, at around 4 am.
He said the militants cut the barbed wires on the rear side of the camp to enter inside.
“The militants lobbed hand grenades and fired from AK-47 rifles to inflict heavy damage on the army men. However, the militants were instantly engaged by the army men stationed in the camp,” the official said.
He said the heavy exchange of gunfire between the militants and army men continued for over half an hour.
“During the gunfight, a captain, a JCO and a jawan were killed and five other soldiers sustained injuries. Two attackers were also killed in the gunfight,” the official said.
The injured soldiers were evacuated to army hospital in Srinagar, where condition of two injured soldiers is said to be critical.
After the gunfight ended, army launched a massive combing operation in the area around their camp to flush out the militants, if any, hiding there.
The troops also conducted combing operation within the camp to ascertain whether any attacker had managed to escape after the attack.
Sources said army is ascertaining whether one of the attackers managed to escape during the gunfight.
An army official said three AK-47 assault rifles, nine magazines, 156 rounds of AK-47, one Chinese pistol, one pistol magazine, one UBGL and three grenades, three matrix sheets, two GPS, one smart phone and a radio set was recovered from possession of the slain militants.
He said since three AK-47 rifles have been recovered, army is probing whether three militants were involved in the attack and one of them managed to escape.
The deceased soldiers were identified as 25-year-old Captain Ayush Yadav from Kanpur UP, JCO Bhoop Singh, 46, from Rajasthan and Naik B V Ramanna, 38, from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
Sources said the slain militants were foreigners.
“They either belonged to Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad,” they said adding identity of the slain militants and the outfit to which they owed allegiance was being ascertained.
According to sources, militants may have recently infiltrated from across the LoC and might have been assigned the task of attacking the army camp by their handlers.
“Army has launched investigation to ascertain how militants managed to reach near the camp without detection,” they said.
As the gunfight ended and news spread that two militants have been killed, the residents of the villages living close to the army camp came out on roads and staged protests. Chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, the protesting people assembled near the army camp and demanded bodies of the militants for their proper burial.
The protestors pelted stones on the police and army men deployed there.
The cops fired tear smoke shells to disperse the protesting people. However, people continued protests to demand bodies of the slain militants.
As the protests and stone pelting pursued, the security men fired on the crowd, killing a 70-year-old civilian Mohammad Yousuf Bhat and injuring three others.
The injured civilians have been hospitalized.
After killing of civilian, the protests in the area intensified and spread to adjoining areas as well.
Today’s attack on army camp was the first fidayeen attack by militants this year and third assault on army camps in Valley since September last year.
On September 18, 2016, four heavily armed militants had attacked an army base in Uri, close to LoC, killing 19 soldiers and injuring over two dozen others. All the four attackers were also killed. Ten days after the attack, army launched surgical strikes on militant launch pads across the LoC.
On November 29, 2016, militants attacked a heavily armed army camp at Nagrota in Jammu on Srinagar-Jammu national highway killing seven soldiers including two officers.
Mehbooba pays tributes to soldiers
Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti paid rich tributes to the officer and two army jawans killed in an encounter with militants in Kupwara.
She has also expressed anguish over the death of a person in protests during the day in the area.
“An unending cycle of violence has got unleashed in our society which is devouring it and pushing Kashmir towards darkness,” he said.
The CM appealed people to come forward in bringing this cycle of violence to an end and help the government in its efforts of restoring normalcy and peace in the Valley.