THE WORLDPOST
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Kashmir Shoot-Out Ends After 20 Hours (VIDEO)

(AP) SRINAGAR, India -- Government forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir ended a 20-hour gunbattle with suspected rebels Thursday, shooting and killing the two attackers who paralyzed the region's main city.

The attack was the first prolonged gunfight in Srinagar since 2006 and raised concerns about a possible spike in violence in the tense region after years of declining attacks.

The heavily militarized territory is claimed in its entirety by India and neighboring Pakistan - both nuclear armed nations - and the dispute has sparked two wars between the rival countries.

The attackers entered a crowded shopping area in Srinagar on Wednesday afternoon and hurled hand grenades and opened fire at a group of soldiers, killing one police officer and one bystander, according to top police official Farooq Ahmed.

The assailants then took refuge in a hotel, where they held off troops throughout the night. Early Thursday, government forces fought their way into the hotel, killing the men, said Ahmed.

Government soldiers were searching the area for any leftover explosives and any other suspicious items, Ahmed said.

The fighting wounded 10, including four soldiers, he said.

One portion of the hotel, which is located in the usually crowded Lal Chowk area in the heart of the city, caught fire during the prolonged gunbattle. Fire engines were trying to douse the flames.

Dozens of armored vehicles swarmed the business district, which was closed to the public after the attack.

The wounded civilians, who were hospitalized with bullet and shrapnel wounds, included a cameraman from a television news channel, said police officer Sajad Ahmed.

Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of the rebel groups active in the area, claimed responsibility for the attack in a fax sent to the Press Trust of India news agency.

"The attack is in response to India's propaganda that the armed struggle has weakened in Kashmir," the statement said.

Hours after the gunbattle ended, a photographer for a local newspaper, Greater Kashmir, was shot in the leg by a police official, according to at least four journalists present at the site.

"We were busy photographing the scene when suddenly we heard a gunshot and saw our colleague Aman Farooq lying on the ground in a pool of blood. We asked the officer, 'Why did you shoot him?' and he said, 'No, I didn't' and ran away," said Imran Ahmed, a local reporter.

Ahmed, the police official, said the photographer was likely hit by a stray bullet but added that the matter was being investigated.

After the attack began Wednesday, hundreds of locals gathered on the edges of the district and chanted pro-independence slogans and clashed with troops, who used bamboo batons and tear gas to disperse them.

Anti-India sentiments run deep in the majority Muslim region, where more than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, or its merger with neighboring Pakistan since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

"We can only say that if there is no political solution to the (Kashmir) problem, these attacks are bound to happen," said Shakeel Ahmed Bhat, a software engineer with a shop in the area where the attack took place.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. The two sides began talks aimed at resolving Kashmir and other disputes in 2004, but India froze the peace process after the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

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