SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian security forces on Monday killed two suspected organizers of a deadly suicide bombing in the disputed region of Kashmir that has fueled tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, police said.
An Indian Army soldier carries a rocket launcher near the site of a gun battle between suspected militants and Indian security forces in Pinglan village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Younis Khaliq
The suicide bomb attack on a paramilitary police convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir last Thursday killed at least 40 men, the deadliest single attack on Indian forces in 30 years of insurgency in the Muslim-majority region.
The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack. India accuses Pakistan for harboring the group. Pakistan denies that.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing an election that must be held by May, has promised a strong response to the attack and says he has given the military a free hand to tackle cross-border militancy.
The two suspected masterminds of the bomb attack killed in a clash on Monday were both Pakistani nationals and members of JeM, police said in a statement.
“The encounter is still in progress and the security forces are on the job,” police said.
Four Indian soldiers and a civilian were also killed during the fighting, police said. One police source told Reuters one of the dead militants had been identified as Abdul Rashid Gazi, who went by the alias Kamran Bhai.
Indian troops had earlier cordoned off Pinglan village in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, where the attack took place on Thursday.
An indefinite curfew has been imposed and police have asked people to stay indoors.
Mohammad Yunis, a journalist in Pulwama, said troops were searching the village and civilians trapped in houses were being evacuated.
On Sunday, police said Indian forces had detained 23 men suspected of links to the militants who carried out the Thursday bombing.
Kashmir is at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan. They both claim it in full but rule it in part.
India has withdrawn trade privileges offered to Pakistan and has warned of further action.
With tension mounting, Pakistan withdrew its envoy to India for consultations, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Twitter on Monday.
The Thursday bomb attack has sparked outrage in India with calls for revenge circulating on social media, and rising animosity toward Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of the Hindu-majority country.
The Confederation of All India Traders called for a nationwide strike to protest against the attack, and footage from Reuters partner ANI showed shuttered shops in several states on Monday.
Additional reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Writing by Alasdair Pal and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel