June 2004 News

Tourist Fears After Kashmir Attack

12 June 2004
Associated Press

Srinagar: A grenade attack on a crowded restaurant in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed four people, including two tourists and a young child, and wounded 25 others. Separate attacks in the troubled region left five more dead and wounded 20. Suspected rebels lobbed a grenade into a popular restaurant in Pahalgam, a holiday resort in India's Jammu-Kashmir state, police said. The blast triggered an explosion of a cooking gas canister in the restaurant, adding to the casualties, said Saifuddin, a local police officer who uses only one name. The dead included two tourists, one a six-year-old girl, and two of the restaurant's cooks. Police were waiting until the families of the victims were notified before making the names of the victims public. Al-Nasireen, a little-known rebel group, claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to Current News Service, a local news agency. Pahalgam, 95 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir, has drawn thousands of tourists who are trickling back to Kashmir since the insurgency began nearly 15 years ago. Tourism officials were concerned that visitors to the state would avoid coming to Kashmir. 'It is a mindless act. This (attack) will affect us in the short term, but we are doing our best to allay the fears of tourists visiting Kashmir,' said Salim Baig, a top tourism official in Srinagar. More than 100,000 tourists had arrived in Kashmir since the summer holiday season began in April, compared to 20,000 last year, Baig said. Earlier Saturday, a hand grenade thrown by a suspected Islamic rebel at an army vehicle in a border town missed its target and wounded 22 civilians, four of them critically, police said. The blast occurred in Handwara, a town close to the Line of Control which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, said Altaf Khan, a local police officer. Police blamed the attack on Islamic militants fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 1989. Elsewhere in Kashmir, three suspected militants were killed in a gunbattle at Jumagund, 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Srinagar, army officials said on condition of anonymity. Separatist groups have continued fighting Indian forces despite a cease-fire accord between India and Pakistan signed last November.


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