Three soldiers and a civilian were killed when suspected militants ambushed a patrol in Indian Kashmir’s Shopian district on Thursday, the army said.
Five other soldiers were injured, three critically.
“The militants opened fire at the army patrol party in Shopian district’s Chitgram village at around 2:30 a.m.,” Col. Rajesh Kalia, the Indian Army’s public relations officer, told BenarNews.
“The firing lasted about an hour, during which three soldiers – Sreejit M.J., Vikas Kumar and Ghulam Muhammad Rather – lost their lives and five others were wounded. A woman, Taja Begum, who was standing near a window of her house, was accidentally killed when she was hit by a stray bullet,” Kalia said, adding that the unknown number of militants managed to escape.
Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the largest separatist faction in the disputed Himalayan region, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“HM commanders, including Peer Saifullah Khalid and Mehmood Ghaznavi complimented the operatives for carrying out [the] successful attack on [the] army patrol,” Burhan-ud-Din, the outfit’s spokesman, told Kashmir News Service.
Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, Kashmir has been gripped by a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
The Indian-controlled side of Kashmir, known as Jammu and Kashmir, witnessed a months-long violent unrest after security forces gunned down an HM leader in July 2016. More than 100 people were killed and more than 10,000 injured in almost daily clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces through early December, when the protests died down.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti condemned the attack.
“Violence has never been a solution to address any issue. The unending cycle of violence in the state has brought unprecedented miseries to the people and collective efforts are needed to combat death and destruction,” she said in a statement released by her office.
Thursday’s attack is the third assault on security forces in Indian Kashmir this month. On Feb. 14, three soldiers were killed and at least 15 injured in a fire fight with militants in Bandipora district. In a separate attack in Kulgam district on Feb. 12, two solders, four militants and a civilian were killed.
While the Indian Army has lost about 10 soldiers in the first two months of 2017, more than 20 suspected militants have killed in 50 days, the highest since 2010, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI).
Intelligence reports suggest that about 100 Kashmiris have taken up arms against Indian security forces after the July killing of HM commander Burhan Wani, the PTI said.