SRINAGAR: In a major attack, a heavily armed group of Hizbul Mujahideen militants ambushed an Army patrol in a village in South Kashmir’s Shopian district early on Thursday, and escaped after killing three soldiers and injuring five others, including a Lt Colonel and a Major. A woman hit by a stray bullet inside her house during the gunfight also died.
Defence spokesperson in Srinagar, Colonel Rajesh Kalia, told New Indian Express that the militants, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, ambushed a 44 Rashtriya Rifles patrol at Mulu
Chitragam village as they were returning after a combing operation in a nearby village at 2 am.
Eight soldiers, including a Lt Colonel and a Major, were injured in the incident and were evacuated to a military hospital in Srinagar, where three soldiers succumbed. A woman identified as Taja Begum was hit by a stray bullet inside her house during the crossfire, and succumbed on her way to hospital, the police said. The slain soldiers were identified as Lance Naik Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Rather of Bijbehara, Anantnag in J&K; sapper Sreejith M J of Paruthipully, Palakkad in Kerala, and sepoy Vikas Singh Gurjar of Karouli, Rajasthan. The Army, police and paramilitary personnel launched a joint search operation in the village to nab the attackers. Villagers alleged that the troops damaged parked cars and window panes of residential houses during the operation.
Pro-Pakistani militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attack, and a Hizbul spokesperson said five Army men were killed and seven injured in the ambush. This was the first major attack on security forces this year. Earlier, the militants were engaging security personnel during search and combing operations after being trapped. Security agencies suspect the attack may have been carried out jointly by Hizbul and Lashkar-e-Toiba militants. Both Hizbul and Lashkar-e-Toiba are active in South Kashmir, which was the epicentre of the unrest triggered by the killing of 21-year-old Hizb commander Burhan Wani in July last year.
Conveying her sympathies to the bereaved families, CM Mehbooba Mufti said violence could never be a means to address issues and a collective effort was needed to get the State out of the morass of
death and destruction.