Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Historic Kashmir school destroyed in arson attack

AP , SRINAGAR, INDIA

Kashmir's oldest school burned down yesterday in a suspected arson attack that sparked emotional street protests over an institution that has educated the region's most prominent and influential people for generations.

The Islamia High School, a 105-year-old brick and wood structure with high arched windows and ceilings of cedar logs, was gutted in the fire that broke out early yesterday in the center of Srinagar, said senior police officer Javed Ahmad.

"We suspect mischief. It doesn't seem to be an accident," Ahmad told reporters.

News of the fire sent shockwaves through the city, and people went out into the streets and shut down shops in an emotional outpouring.

No one immediately claimed responsibility.

"I am in shock. I can't believe it. Soon after dawn, the fire started in the left wing of the building," said witness Mohammed Hussain, who lives next to the school. "Within minutes, before I could blink an eye, it had spread all over the building. There were very dark, black clouds of smoke rising."

The school, which has some 2,500 students, was built in 1899 and is run by Anjuman-e-Nusrat-ul Islam (Society for the Victory of Islam), a religious and educational trust headed by Umar Farooq, the chief Muslim cleric in Kashmir.

Farooq is also a top leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a political separatist grouping in Kashmir. Farooq, a moderate, has been targeted in recent months by suspected armed Islamic groups.

Farooq's uncle was shot while saying prayers at a mosque on May 29 and died of his wounds a week later. On the same day, Farooq's home was attacked with a grenade.

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