Thousands of Muslims Throng Mosque As Troops Remove Bunkers
SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ Thousands of Muslims thronged Kashmir’s holiest mosque Saturday after Indian troops dismantled the protective sand bunkers that militants have campaigned to have removed for nearly a year.
The Hazratbal Mosque contains a holy relic that Muslims believe is the hair of the Prophet Mohammad. Muslim militants had frequently charged that it had been damaged since troops laid siege to the mosque last October.
Priests quickly examined the glass vial containing the hair Saturday, and declared that it had not been damaged.
″The relic is safe and has not been touched,″ said Ghulam Khadir Drabu, chairman of the Auqaf Trust that governs all mosques in Kashmir.
Hours before the celebrations at the mosque, Indian forces killed 15 Muslim militants in separate incidents around Kashmir, according to news reports.
More than 9,500 people have been killed in Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim- majority state in predominantly Hindu India, since a Muslim campaign for independence erupted into an insurgency in 1989.
Separatist guerrillas warned they would prevent Hindus from making their pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine in the state later this month unless security forces were withdrawn from the Hazratbal Mosque.
The mosque was the scene of a 32-day standoff between the rebels and the army last fall. In a subsequent protest against the deployment of troops, 40 unarmed demonstrators were killed last Oct. 21 in the town of Bijbehara, 25 miles south of Srinagar.