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Police say rebel attacks kill 10 in Indian Kashmir

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AIJAZ HUSSAIN | September 26, 2013 10:08 AM EST | AP

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SRINAGAR, India — Suspected separatist rebels stormed into a police station in the Indian portion of Kashmir on Thursday and shot and killed at least six people before attacking a nearby army camp, killing four soldiers, police said.

Security forces killed three attackers after nearly six hours of fighting inside the army camp, said Ashok Prasad, a top police officer in Jammu-Kashmir state. He said the attackers used guns and grenades.

"The firing from the militants has stopped and we are mopping up the area," Prasad said.

Police officer Rajesh Kumar said only three militants were involved in the attacks, based on eyewitness accounts.

Four soldiers died and two others were critically wounded in the second attack, an army officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The deputy head of the army's cavalry unit was among the dead and the unit's commanding officer was being treated for injuries, the officer said.

Television footage showed a helicopter hovering near the army camp as soldiers fired at the attackers. Two tanks moved inside the camp looking for the assailants.

In the first attack, three gunmen dressed in Indian army uniforms sprayed bullets at a police station, killing at least four officers and two civilians, according to several police officers.

Another three police officers and one civilian were wounded in the firing, Prasad said.

The attackers then hijacked a truck and drove away. Kumar said they likely drove another vehicle to the army camp, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.

A man identifying himself as Shams-ul-Haque and claiming to be the spokesman of a previously unknown militant group – Shohada Brigade, or Martyr's Brigade – claimed responsibility for the twin attacks in a phone call to a local English daily, the Kashmir Monitor.

"We have full contact with militants and all the three militants are locals," he told the newspaper.

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in its entirety, and insurgent groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Kashmiri militants who carry out attacks in the Indian portion of Kashmir, but Islamabad denies that.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the attacks and said in a statement that India was "firmly resolved to combat and defeat the terrorist menace that continues to receive encouragement and reinforcement from across the border (in Pakistan)."

He said, however, that such attacks would not succeed in derailing India's efforts to resolve its differences with Pakistan through dialogue.

Singh and Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, are scheduled to meet this weekend on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting. The two are expected to discuss steps to improve ties.

The area where the attacks took place is nearly 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir. Shortly after the attacks, authorities closed traffic on the nearby main highway linking Indian Kashmir with the rest of the country.

Omar Abdullah, the top elected official in Jammu-Kashmir state, said the attacks were aimed at derailing this weekend's meeting between the two prime ministers. "We should not allow such forces to succeed," he said.

However, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that Singh call off his scheduled meeting with Sharif.

Separately, Indian soldiers intercepted dozens of insurgents who allegedly crossed into the Indian portion of Kashmir from Pakistani territory in the Kupwara region, said Lt. Gen. Gurmeet Singh, an army commander.

He told reporters that the soldiers killed at least 10 of the insurgents during gunbattles Wednesday and Thursday near the highly militarized Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. He said the militants' bodies had not yet been recovered because the fighting was still going on. There was no independent confirmation of Singh's claim.

India feels Pakistan is not doing enough to rein in Islamic militants.

In August, the killing of five Indian soldiers, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistani troops, escalated tensions and threatened to derail overtures aimed at resuming peace talks between the nuclear-armed neighbors. The dialogue was interrupted after fighting between Indian and Pakistani soldiers on the disputed Kashmir border in January.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they gained independence from Britain.