A separatist group in Indian Kashmir claimed responsibility for gunning down five policemen and two bank guards while holding up a cash van on Monday.
The attack came a day after suspected militants hurled a grenade at a police patrol party in Srinagar, killing a civilian and injuring five policemen, amid growing unrest in the insurgency-torn region.
Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the largest separatist faction in the disputed Himalayan region, praised its cadres for conducting Monday’s assault in south Kashmir’s Kul gam district.
“HM operatives carried out the attack and decamped with guns of policemen. Mahmood Ghaznavi [HM’s operational commander] congratulated the operatives involved in the attack and announced a reward for them,” the group said in a statement issued to the press late Monday.
In Monday’s incident, gunmen ambushed a Jammu and Kashmir Bank vehicle used to transport cash near Pombai village and fled with four rifles that belonged to the slain security personnel, police said. No money was stolen.
“The bank cash van was returning after depositing cash at a branch in the district. It was a sudden and intense attack. The policemen and bank guards accompanying the vehicle did not get a chance to retaliate,” Indian Kashmir’s police chief, S.P. Vaid, told BenarNews.
“The attackers fled with the policemen’s service rifles after the gruesome strike. We have launched a manhunt for the suspects,” he added.
The militants fired shots at the tires, bringing the vehicle to a halt, before killing the occupants, another police official in the district said.
“They [the attackers] shot the occupants of the vehicle from very close range. But for some reason, they spared the vehicle’s driver,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed over 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
India and Pakistan have fought three full-blown wars, largely over control of Kashmir, since the partition of the sub-continent in 1947. The two sides routinely accuse each other of cross border infiltrations and ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC), a de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two countries.
India blames Pakistan for beheading soldiers
On Monday, the Indian Army accused Pakistani soldiers of beheading two Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers following an unprovoked attack on Indian posts situated along the LoC in Poonch district.
The Indian Army warned of a befitting reply to its neighbor.
“Bodies of two soldiers were mutilated in an inhuman act by the Pakistan Army after an unprovoked attack at Krishna Ghati sector along the LoC. The Pakistan army fired rockets and mortar shells at Indian posts at around 8:30 a.m. IST,” The Indian Army’s Northern Command said in a statement.
“The Indian Army will appropriately respond to [the] despicable act by Pakistan army,” it said.
The Pakistan Army denied allegations that its soldiers attacked and beheaded Indian security personnel.
“Pakistan Army did not commit any ceasefire violation on the LoC in the Buttal sector (India’s Krishna Ghati sector) as alleged by India. Indian blame of mutilating Indian soldiers’ bodies is also false,” the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Public Relations wing said in a statement, according to the Press Trust of India.
“Pakistan Army is a highly professional force and shall never disrespect a soldier, even Indian,” it said.