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Heavy firing at Kashmir temple

Indian paramilitary soldiers fire at Islamic militants at the Raghunath temple.
Indian paramilitary soldiers fire at Islamic militants at the Raghunath temple.

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Timeline: Kashmir history
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JAMMU, Indian-controlled Kashmir -- Police have reported heavy firing near a Hindu temple in Indian-controlled Kashmir following a siege that left at least 12 dead.

Shooting continued Monday in spite of police reports that the standoff at the Raghunath temple complex -- a 150-year-old institution in Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state -- was over.

Officers in Jammu said they believed militants hiding behind the temple were engaging security forces in a gunbattle, The Associated Press reports.

Two suspected militants were killed at Raghunath before police reported the end of the siege.

Several hundred meters away, police fought with and killed a suspected Islamic militant at another temple, this one dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, and there were reports of grenade explosions at a market nearby.

In all, 10 people, including two police officers, were killed in the standoff.

It was the third consecutive day of stepped-up violence in Kashmir, a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947.

At Raghunath, police and security forces surrounded the temple, engaged in a gun battle for a few hours, secured the area and evacuated the building.

Authorities initially thought that two militants, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, had entered the facility.

The body of one militant was dragged out of the Raghunath temple by policemen, leaving a trail of blood on the marbled floor. Angry pilgrims followed, and forced the police to stop and stomped on the man's body, Associated Press reports.

The dead included five civilians and two policeman, an officer said on condition of anonymity.

The identities of another three were not immediately known. It was unclear whether the casualties had been caught in crossfire or hurt when the militants raided the temples.

Islamic attacks in Kashmir have escalated since a provincial government took power last month in Jammu and Kashmir. The new government wants New Delhi to begin talks with those fighting its rule in Kashmir.

But that seemed unlikely after Sunday's attack, as Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani condemned what he called "terrorist violence."

Soft targets

"It's a tragedy which is a warning for those who think that we can afford to relax," Advani said.

Moments before the raid, multiple grenade explosions took place in the nearby Hari Market, from where thousands of Hindu pilgrims set off daily on their way to the mountaintop shrine of Vaishno Devi.

"Two men first threw grenades at an ice cream parlor, then started indiscriminate firing and forced their way into the temple," junior federal minister I.D. Swami told the private Zee News television channel.

"Temples are soft targets. The terrorists who come from Pakistan want to spread panic and provoke religious violence."

Thousands of worshippers flock to the Raghunath temple every day.

It was the second attack this year on the temple. In March, nine people, including two militants, were killed.

Increase in violence

On Saturday, 17 people were killed in a number of incidents, including one in which eight Indian soldiers and four civilians were killed when Islamic militants detonated a landmine beneath a passing convoy.

Six members of India's Central Reserve Police Force were killed and nine others wounded early Friday after two suspected militants launched a suicide attack on a police camp in the disputed province of Kashmir, authorities said.

More than 61,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since the start of a Muslim rebellion in 1989.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the Kashmir insurgency. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it supports the rebels' cause but gives them no material aid.

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over the Himalayan province divided between the two nuclear powers.

-- CNN Correspondent Satinder Bindra contributed to this story



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