NEW DELHI, India -- Suspected militants attacked a paramilitary camp on the outskirts of Srinagar in the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing five officers before two gunmen were shot dead. At least five officers and three civilians were also wounded.
The brazen attack in the largest city in the Kashmir region jointly claimed by India and Pakistan is reportedly the largest such assault in three years.
According to officials and local news media reports, around 10:45 a.m., militants with grenades attacked a Central Reserve Police Force paramilitary camp before entering an adjoining public school. Once there, they reportedly “fired indiscriminately” at civilians, including children playing cricket.
School was not in session due to a general strike protesting February's hanging of a Kashmiri, Mohammad Afzal Guru, who was convicted of providing assistance in a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. His execution was controversial in Kashmir and among local and international human rights groups.
The two gunmen killed Wednesday were dressed in track pants and carried weapons in sports bags. An extensive search was mounted for two more militants believed to be hiding in the area. No group claimed immediate responsibility.
Television images showed police dressed in khaki uniforms carrying a dead body toward a police vehicle near yellow school buildings with green roofs as other officers helped a wounded colleague.
The audacious attack occurred in Srinagar’s heavily fortified Bemina neighborhood, which houses a training center, hospital and residential quarters for security forces, including the Central Reserve Police Force, the Indian army and state government.
Srinagar senior police superintendant Ashiq Hussain Bukhari told reporters it appeared to be a suicide, or fidayeen, attack. The last major suicide attack in Kashmir took place in early 2010.
But a Central Reserve Police Force official questioned the suicide-attack theory. “It’s not a fidayeen attack because no one came inside the camp and attacked the officers,” said Commandant Anand Singh, a spokesman. “People say just about anything.”
Dileep Padgaonkar, a journalist who served as a government-appointed interlocutor in Kashmir in 2010 after a summer of violence, said the insurgents appear keen to exploit current widespread anger and resentment over the Guru hanging and New Delhi’s refusal to return Guru’s body to his family.
“Militant groups hope to exploit the mood in the [Kashmir] Valley, which is against New Delhi,” Padgaonkar said. “There is going to be a lot of talk about security failures.”
Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since their 1947 separation have been over disputed Kashmir. Militants living in the Indian-controlled portion have fought for decades against Indian rule. The protracted insurgency has killed more than 40,000 people, according to official figures, although some human rights groups say the actual death toll is much higher.
A senior Indian official blamed India’s neighbor for Wednesday’s attack.
“Terrorists killed prima facie appear to be not local, came from across the border, probably from Pakistan,” Indian Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters.
Some questioned this conclusion in advance of a thorough investigation, adding that it’s always easy to blame outsiders.
“I tend to be skeptical,” said Padgaonkar.
Tanvi Sharma in the New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.