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Militants storm into Punjab police station, kill seven

NEW DELHI: Militants dressed in Indian Army uniforms on Monday opened fire on a civilian bus and then took over a police station in Punjab, killing at least seven persons, including Gurudaspur SP (detective) Baljeet Singh, in a region that has been mostly calm since India quelled a Sikh insurgency there two decades ago.

The police reported finding five bombs wired to a railway track in the area, causing train services to be suspended.

All the gunmen were killed late in the day, after a shootout with police that continued for almost 12 hours, said Havaldar Prit Pal Singh  in Gurdaspur, a district near the international border with Pakistan and the state border with Jammu and Kashmir.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he had ordered that security be increased on the border between India and Pakistan.

It remained unclear who the gunmen were. Though similar commando-style attacks are regularly carried out by Islamic militants in Jammu and Kashmir, to the north, it is unusual to see them in Punjab, which is heavily Sikh.

Throughout the 1980s, the state was the site of one of India’s most violent ethnic conflicts, as Indian forces battled the Khalistan Liberation Force, which sought to establish an independent Sikh nation in Punjab. By the mid-1990s, however, that insurgency was all but crushed, with hundreds of rebels arrested, killed or driven underground.

The police said that the gunmen on Monday, who were believed to have entered Punjab from Jammu and Kashmir, had stolen a car and then opened fire on a moving intercity bus before raiding the police station in Dinanagar, roughly 25 miles from the Pakistani border.

The attackers stormed the station around 5 am and shot two officers on duty there, said Joginder Singh, a constable at Gurdaspur Police Headquarters. It was unclear where the other three people were killed. “We do not know how many people were inside the station, and how many are still alive,” he said.

Among those killed was a police superintendent who was “on the terrace, targeting the terrorists, when the terrorists shot him down with a burst from their guns,” said an official stationed at the residence of the police chief in Gurudaspur. Army commandos were dispatched to Dinanagar to assist the police.

The perpetrators of Monday’s terror strike in Punjab are suspected to have sneaked into India from Pakistan through the unfenced border between Jammu and Pathankot or Chak Hira in Jammu district to launch the brazen assault about which central agencies had intelligence inputs.

Union Home Ministry sources said the terrorists may have entered the Indian territory around Sunday midnight and hit the highway using Paharpur road, nearly 15 km from the international border, to unleash mayhem that left six dead, including an SP rank officer of Punjab police.

The last attack in Jammu was carried out by terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed whose fidayeen combatants, clad in Army fatigues, stormed a police station in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district on March 20 this year, killing six persons, including three security force personnel. Both the militants had been killed in retaliatory action.

The terrorists involved in the attacks, reached Parmanand village on Jammu and Kashmir’s border with Punjab where they attempted to hijack a tempo at 5.30 AM. The tempo driver, however, managed to flee.

Later, they hijacked a Maruti 800 car after injuring its driver who is hospitalised, before killing a roadside vendor near Dinanagar bypass and spraying a Punjab roadways bus with bullets.

The three militants were then holed up in vacant flats in the area before they were shot dead by security forces.

The intelligence inputs spoke about the possibility of Pakistan-based militants targeting locations in the two states due to enhanced security in the Jammu region. (With inputs from agencies)