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Seven killed in attack on bus carrying Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir
( 2002-10-01 14:29 ) (7 )

Suspected Islamic militants shot dead at least seven people in an attack on a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims to a shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir Tuesday, police and witnesses said.

Among the dead were two autorickshaw drivers who came under fire when they rushed to the scene from a nearby taxi stand to help ferry the injured to hospital, a police spokesman said.

The attack near the town of Hiranagar came just 15 minutes ahead of the opening of voting stations for legislative elections in four districts in the disputed state.

The bus carrying about 30 passengers was travelling on the main highway from the state of Punjab and had just crossed into the Kathua district of Kashmir when it came under attack at around 0645 am (0115 GMT), the spokesman said.

Witnesses said the attackers, wearing police uniforms, fired one shot as the bus approached.

The driver, thinking police were waving him down, stopped the vehicle, whereupon the militants threw a grenade inside and then began blazing away with automatic weapons, one witness said.

The police spokesman said the militants had earlier hijacked a van carrying 15 people at Sherpur, near India's international border with Pakistan, and were moving up towards Kashmir with their hostages when the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle and ran away.

As the attackers were firing at the fleeing driver, the bus arrived on the scene and was brought to a halt by the rebels who then proceeded to launch their assault.

Police and security personnel were swarming over the area, while the army has launched an operation to flush out the militants from a nearby forested area where they took shelter after the attack.

Most of the people on the bus were Hindu pilgrims on their way to the Mata Vaishno Devi temple about 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of Jammu, Indian Kashmir's southern winter capital, a witness said.

On Tuesday last week, militants attacked a Hindu temple in India's western Gujarat province, killing 31 people before they were shot dead. New Delhi claimed that attack was part of the ongoing violence aimed at disrupting the legislative polls in Kashmir, which are being held in four stages.

Kathua is one of four districts voting Tuesday in the third phase of the staggered poll, which the militants have vowed to disrupt.

Since election dates were announced on August 2, more than 600 people have been killed in the Himalayan region, 35 of them activists from parties contesting the polls.

Witnesses said the attack had caused panic at Hiranagar, but polling stations had opened in the town on schedule at 07"In other early-morning violence Tuesday, a paramilitary border guard was injured in a blast at a polling station in the village of Litter, in central Pulwama district.

Another explosion, believed to be a landmine, went off near a polling station at Gulzar Tora, also in Pulwama, seriously injuring two troops from India's paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF).

Another polling station was attacked with a grenade at Telwani village in southern Anantnag district, injuring two border guards and one polling official, police said.

Two other polling stations were attacked overnight in Anantnag, injuring four security force personnel.



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