7 Killed In Kashmir Pilgrimage Explosion
21 July 2003
The Washington Post
Jammu: Two grenade blasts by suspected Islamic guerrillas killed seven pilgrims and wounded 25 others on their way to one of the most revered Hindu shrines in Indian-controlled Kashmir, police said. The explosions occurred at a community kitchen as thousands of people were making the steep climb to the mountaintop shrine of Vaishno Devi. 'This is the work of miliants,' Inspector-General P.L.Gupta, the head of police forces in the Jammu region, told The Associated Press. Swami Chinmayananda, India's junior interior minister, blamed Pakistan for the blasts. India freqently blames its South Asian rival for militant attacks. There was no immediate comment from Islamabad. 'It has become a tradition that whenever relations are improving between India and Pakistan, things like this take place,' Chinmayanand told the private Aaj Tak channel. 'This has been done to wreck religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims.' The blast came hours after Pakistani pro-Taliban leader Maulana Fazl-ur Rahman, who supports Osama bin Laden, discussed peace with Hindu nationalist leaders. Security has been tightened in the area recently after police said there were intelligence reports that Islamic militants could target the shrine, 37 miles northeast of Jammu, winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir. Jammu-Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state Attacks on the Hindu pilgrims in Jammu-Kashmir in the past three years have left 59 people dead. Millions of Hindu devotees from across the world come to the town of Katra each month to make the 7.5- mile climb through narrow winding roads to worship a Hindu goddess in the Vaishno Devi cave shrine. More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting in Jammu-Kashmir since 1989, some seeking its independence from India, and others its merger with Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of arming and aiding the militants. Pakistan denies assisting the insurgents, but says it supports their cause through diplomatic and political channels. The two nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two of their three wars over the region, which they both claim in its entirety.