India: 11 Die in Punjab Militant Attack

By Adeel Shah
2015.07.27
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150727-IN-punjab-620 Indian policemen stand guard during an operation to flush out militants who attacked a police station in Dinanagar, Punjab state, July 27, 2015.
AFP

In one of the worst attacks in Indian Punjab in years, suspected militants on Monday killed eight people and were later shot dead after holing up in a police station near the Pakistani border.

Four civilians and four security officers, including a senior police official, were gunned down in the early morning attack.

Three militants were then killed by police during a 12-hour operation that followed to flush them out of the station in Dinanagar, near the border town of Gurdaspur, officials said.

“All the three militants who were holed up in Dinanagar police station were eliminated. They were dressed in army uniforms,” Gurdaspur Deputy Police Commissioner Abhinav Trikha told BenarNews by phone, adding that the assailants had booby-trapped railways tracks near the town with some home-made bombs before mounting their attack on multiple targets.

The army later diffused the bombs.

“The militants first targeted a roadside eatery near a bus stand in Dinanagar around 5 a.m.,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (Border Rangers) A.K. Mittal told BenarNews.

“They hijacked a private car and then opened fire on a passenger bus. Then they targeted a community health center and then entered the police station,” he said.

The senior officer who was killed during the incident was identified as Police Supt. (Detective Branch) Baljeet Singh.

Pakistani condemnation

Although attacks along the Indo-Pak border are frequent in restive Kashmir, Monday’s bloody encounter in Punjab was the worst in more than 20 years since India crushed an insurgency there. Waged by Sikhs, the insurgency aimed to create a separate state in Punjab called Khalistan.

Punjab is the name of an Indian state as well as a Pakistani province on the other side of the border.

At press time, no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, but one analyst said it appeared to be the work of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a separatist group based in Pakistan.

According to a report by the Reuters news agency, the Pakistani government issued a statement condemning the attack and sending its condolences to the Indian people. But Pakistan pushed back “against suggestions by some Indian security forces that the assailants had crossed from Pakistani territory.”

At press time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not yet issued a statement about the attack.

Soon after, however, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh instructed the head of the Border Security Force (BSF) to increase vigilance along the border.

“Spoke to DG BSF Shri DK Pathak and instructed him to step up the vigil on India-Pakistan border in the wake of attack in Gurdaspur,” Singh said in a message posted on Twitter.

Probe under way

In Punjab, state officials praised the local police force for eliminating the militants.

“All the three terrorists have been killed,” Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said in a statement. “The DGP, his team and SWOT commandos have done a commendable job and the courage shown by police officers deserves recognition.”

Punjab Police Chief Sumedh Singh Saini said an investigation was under way.

Although the army had been on standby, it was the Punjabi police who took out the militants.

“We had kept three columns of army and special commandos on standby. We were not involved in the operation,” Col. Naresh Vij, the spokesman for the Indian Army in Punjab, told BenarNews. “The army was involved to defuse the live bombs found on the railway tracks.”

LeT behind attack?

Officials have yet to publicly identify which group was behind Monday’s attack. Sameer Patil, a fellow of national security studies at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank, believes it was aimed at undermining the latest Indo-Pakistan peace overtures.

“This seems to be an attempt to derail the India-Pakistan talks announced with much fanfare at Ufa and test Indian political leadership’s resolve ,” Patil told BenarNews, referring to a recent meeting between Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which took place during a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Ufa, Russia.

In his view, the incident bore the imprint of LeT, which has carried out similar attacks in many parts of India, and has been blamed for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people.

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