Suspected Islamic militants raided a village in Indian-controlled Kashmir and killed 22 Hindus, lining them outside their homes and shooting them execution-style, police said Monday.
The attack in the village of Thava was the single bloodiest attack by Islamic rebels in Kashmir since a 2003 cease-fire between India and Pakistan, and it came days ahead of a planned meeting between the divided region’s political separatists and India’s prime minister.
Separately, 13 shepherds were abducted over the weekend in Kashmir’s Udhampur district. Four were found dead Sunday and the bodies of the nine others were discovered Monday afternoon, said a senior police officer, Rajesh Singh.
Witnesses in Thava said more than a half-dozen assailants, some in army uniforms, slipped into the village after dark Sunday and, using local guides, told people they had come to meet with residents.
“When we assembled outside the home of the village head ... they showered bullets on us,” said Gyan Chand, one of five people wounded in the attack. He spoke from a hospital in the town of Doda, near Thava, which is about 380 miles north of New Delhi.
Following the attack, survivors rushed to alert a nearby army camp, but the assailants fled before security forces arrived, said Sheesh Pal Vaid, a police inspector-general.
Islamic militants blamed
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Vaid called the killings “a terrorist attack” — a clear indication that authorities are blaming Islamic militants for the attack.
Reacting to the Thava attack, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested the killings would not hamper efforts to find peace in the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan, saying: “People of Kashmir have rejected and rebuffed terrorists repeatedly.”
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of backing the militants, even as the two rivals have talked peace. Singh, however, stopped short of blaming Islamabad for the attack.
A spokeswoman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, Tasnim Aslam, said the killings were “an act of terrorism and we condemn it.”
The attack in India’s portion of the divided Himalayan territory was the latest violence against Kashmir’s dwindling Hindu minority.
Nearly a dozen militants groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. India says most of the groups are based in Pakistan and receive material and training from Islamabad — allegations denied by Pakistan. More than 66,000 people have been killed.
The insurgents have pressed their fight in recent years, even after Pakistan and India agreed on a cease-fire in 2003 and began peace talks the following year.