Powerful car bomb explodes in Indian Kashmir

Four people were killed and 45 wounded when a powerful car bomb triggered by Islamic rebels ripped through a busy intersection in the main city of Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, police said.

The morning rush-hour blast in Srinagar that left people bleeding on the road and turned vehicles into twisted wrecks was the third attack in three days by rebels fighting New Delhi’s rule in the snow-capped Himalayan state.

“There has been a massive car-bomb explosion,” said a senior state police official in the summer capital of the insurgency-racked state. “Four people have died and 45 people are injured.”

A little-known rebel group, Al Arifeen, claimed responsibility for the explosion in a telephone call to the Kashmir News Service.

Police said it is a front for the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The blast, so strong it was heard several kilometres away, was at an intersection close to scenic Dal Lake, a tourist haunt, and near the offices of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank.

The explosion blew out the bank’s windows and many of the wounded were bank employees.

Ambulances rushed to the blood-spattered site, a scene of chaos with some victims trapped in cars while others lay screaming on the road.

Altaf Hussain was in a bus when the explosion occurred.

“I could feel metal splinters hitting me all over,” he said from his hospital bed.
“I thought, ‘This is the end of my life.’”

Police officer HK Lohia said the rebels parked the explosives-packed car before it exploded. A preliminary inquiry showed “the driver of the vehicle escaped from the scene before triggering the explosion”, he said.

A former state government minister, Usman Majid, who suffered minor facial injuries and was once a militant, said he believes he was the rebels’ target. The rebels often kill former comrades and pro-India politicians.

But police said they are pursuing all leads.

The injured were ferried to Srinagar’s main hospital in ambulances, cars and buses. People flocked to the hospital searching for their relatives. Some women beat their breasts and tugged their hair in a traditional show of grief.

“I was crossing the road when the explosion happened,” said police Constable Bilal Ahmed (27), lying in a hospital bed suffering from face and chest wounds. “I nearly lost consciousness. There was smoke, people lying in blood.”

Mounting violence

Violence has been mounting in Kashmir, casting a shadow over a slow-moving peace process between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan aimed at ending their long-running feud over the divided Muslim-majority region.

New Delhi has accused Pakistan of failing to live up to its pledge to stop attacks directed against India. Pakistan has said it is making every effort to halt violence.

“The attack shows frustration on the part of the militants. They want to sabotage the peace process,” said Peerzada Mohammed Sayeed, the ruling state Congress party’s president and a top minister.

The latest blast came after six people were killed and 60 hurt, including a former tourism minister, in a rebel attack on a rally on Tuesday in Baramulla district north of Srinagar.

On Monday, two guerrillas attacked a security post, killing two police officers and two civilians. One rebel was later shot dead while the other was arrested.

In other violence on Wednesday, at least two security personnel were wounded and a third died of a heart attack when rebels ambushed a convoy.

Kashmir’s chief Muslim cleric and moderate separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called the latest violence “very painful ... the gun is not the solution and we have to open doors for talks to end all disputes”.

He was speaking in New Delhi at a rare joint press conference with representatives of Kashmir’s pro-India political parties.

Opposition National Conference leader Omar Abdullah condemned the violence but said it is a sign of the guerrillas’ frustration at progress in the peace process.

“Some people are angry; they don’t want this peace process to be successful. They don’t want relations between Indian and Pakistan to normalise.”—Sapa-AFP

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