Security personnel have been trading gunfire with militants, holed up inside a hostel complex in Pampore which was the scene of an earlier gunbattle in February this year, since Monday morning. At least one soldier has been injured in the exchanges.
Officers said they suspect two or three militants are inside the 60-room, seven-storey hostel complex of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Sempora in Pampore. The Army and Special Operations Group of J&K Police have cordoned off the complex to prevent the militants from escaping.
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The EDI complex is less than 5 km from the Badami Bagh cantonment, headquarters of the Army XV Corps in Srinagar.
By evening, the militants were firing intermittently, possibly to save ammunition and extend the gunbattle. Army officers said they were in no hurry to storm the building and the operation to flush out the militants could take time.
Officers said that in the morning, flames were noticed in a building used as an EDI hostel and office complex. When fire service personnel approached the building, the militants fired on them, forcing them to retreat. The militants also opened fire on police and Army personnel when they showed up.
This is second time in the last eight months when militants have taken refuge in the EDI complex. The last encounter in February lasted more than 48 hours after the militants killed two CRPF men and injured 12 others during an attack on the national highway.
In the operation that followed, the Army lost three personnel, including a Captain with the Paras. Police said that attack was carried out by Lashkar cadres based in south Kashmir.
Mohammad Ismail Parray, Director of EDI, told The Indian Express that around 6.15 am, he received a call from a staff member that the building had caught fire. “I asked the staff member to inform the fire service department and police. While I was on way to Pampore, I got another call that firefighters and policemen had been fired at from the building.’’
Parray said the first four floors of the building are used as office space since the old office was damaged in the February incident. “The top floors were kept for hostel purposes. Due to the current situation, there was no student in the hostel. Only a cook was present in the building,” he said.
According to Parray, personnel of the Army, SOG and CRPF have thrown a cordon around the complex. “We have already secured all our records online.”
Sources said the militants could have entered the complex via the rear end after crossing the Jhelum from Shalin village. “The militants deliberately set the building on fire and then waited for the security personnel. When they saw the firemen, they opened fire and that alerted the police and Army who were already on their way to the complex,’’ a police officer said.
An Army officer said the mopping-up operation could take time, and that they were in no hurry. “Last time, we lost men. This time, we are in no hurry. We will wait and neutralise the militants.”
Defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said a soldier had been injured in the firefight. “The operation is still in progress,’’ he said.
Police sources said they have been on alert for the past one week because there was information that militants might try to sneak in to carry out attacks.
Kashmir has been on alert ever since September 18 when militants attacked an Army camp in Uri, killing 18 soldiers. Militants also tried to storm camps of the Rashtriya Rifles in Baramulla and Langate this month.