- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

NUNWAN, India Suspected Islamic militants lobbed a grenade and opened fire yesterday on Hindu pilgrims in Kashmir, killing nine and wounding 27, police said.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have been on a war footing for eight months because of similar attacks. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of backing the Islamic guerrillas fighting for Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan.
Six suspected militants sneaked into the pilgrimage's transit camp in Nunwan, about 55 miles southeast of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, said Nirmal Raj, commander of the Central Reserve Police Force guarding the camp.
He said police killed one of the rebels.
There were bullet holes in the makeshift tin-sheet toilets. Bloodied clothes, shoes and sandals littered the campground.
No group took responsibility for the violence. Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani blamed the attack on Al-Mansuriya, a militant offshoot of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The attackers burst into the camp in a forest clearing by the icy Lidder River, where devotees were preparing for the 33-mile hike to the Amarnath shrine. The Himalayan cave houses an icy stalagmite worshipped as an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.
More than 2,000 pilgrims were inside the tented camp at the time of the attack, witnesses said.
"We heard a sudden explosion on the east side of the camp near the makeshift toilets and then the guards asked us to lie flat on the ground," said Rajwant Soni, an injured pilgrim treated at a hospital in Srinagar. "Six people were killed and lying on the grass in front of me."
The annual pilgrimage from the city of Jammu, the winter capital of the state, previously has been targeted by Islamic militants. Guerrillas killed 15 pilgrims last year and 35 in 2000. This year, 24 have died in six attacks, including the ambush yesterday.
At least 125,000 Hindu pilgrims are making the monthlong pilgrimage this year.
Naresh Bhaiji Patel, a devotee from Gujarat, said the pilgrims were furious about the security lapses.
"We don't know how the militants managed to enter the camp. This place is so heavily guarded and even the sadhus [holy men] are not allowed in without being frisked," said Mr. Patel, who suffered injuries in the stampede from the camp.
No specific threats were made against the pilgrims this year. However, police say the threat of violence may be greater because India is holding state elections in Kashmir next month. Kashmiri separatists have called for a boycott of the vote.
A statement by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Islamabad condemns the attack but "rejects with contempt" an Indian official's remarks implicating Pakistan.

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