Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

44 people dead after attacks on Kashmir market


A time bomb hidden in a fruit seller's hand cart and a grenade lobbed in a busy Kashmir market killed two people and wounded 44 in Kashmir yesterday in what police suspect was retaliation by militants for a recent crackdown.

In the first attack, a timed explosive set off a massive blast yesterday morning on the main thoroughfare in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, killing two civilians and wounding 21 others, police said.

Hours later, suspected militants hurled a grenade at paramilitary soldiers, wounding three troopers and 20 civilians in a crowded market in Anantnag town, 55km north of Srinagar, a police spokesman said on condition of anonymity. Ten of the wounded were in critical condition, police said.

The blast in Srinagar occurred on Maulana Azad Road, the wide, tree-lined avenue taken by hundreds of tourists each day to the picturesque Dal Lake boulevard, senior police officer Javed Ahmad said.

Bushes along the site, near a sprawling golf course, were uprooted and the road was strewn with leaves amid blotches of blood. Relatives of the dead wailed and beat their chests, mourning the victims.

A senior police official said the two attacks were believed to be reprisals for a Tuesday crackdown launched by security forces against Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the region's most feared militant group. Twenty people who police said were planning to blow up the country's main stock exchange were arrested, including two who were killed when they allegedly tried to escape.

In a Srinagar hospital, Latif Ahmed, a 25-year-old taxi driver, shrieked in pain on a hospital bed, calling out for his mother as a doctor bandaged one of the wounds on his neck, chest and head. Ahmed was driving his three-wheel "autorickshaw" when the fruit cart blast occurred.

"I was driving my auto and there was a huge sound behind me. I was thrown out of the autorickshaw," Ahmed said. "Then there was only smoke. I don't know what happened after that."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police say separatist rebels in recent weeks have carried out attacks to scare away tourists, who are traveling to the region in the largest numbers since 1989.

However, the top militant group, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, has said it is not targeting tourists.

Tourism is a key industry in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

The region is divided between India and Pakistan. A territorial dispute over the Himalayan province and a 15-year-old insurgency by Pakistan-based Muslim militant groups is the main source of tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars since becoming independent in 1947.

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