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Blast Kills 10 in Kashmir

August 10, 2000

SRINAGAR, India (AP) _ A car bomb ripped through the main shopping district in Kashmir’s capital after a smaller decoy explosion lured security forces to the scene Thursday. Nine officers and a photojournalist were killed, officials said.

Kashmir’s main Muslim guerrilla group, the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for the explosion. It came just two days after the group called off a cease-fire and talks with the Indian government aimed at restoring peace in the Kashmir Valley.

``We are taking responsibility. We have our information sources and they have confirmed that our mujahedeen have done this,″ Salim Hashmi, a spokesman for Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

``With our cease-fire we showed the Indians that we can be peace loving but with this we have now shown them that we can also be strong fighters,″ Hashmi said.

Pradeep Bhatia, a photographer for The Hindustan Times, died in the blast, said Satish Kumar, an assistant to the editor. In addition to the deaths, at least 20 people were injured, said Jamshied Ahmed, a doctor at a police control room who performed autopsies.

Several other journalists filming a car damaged in the first explosion were among those wounded when the second blast went off in the crowded Lal Chowk neighborhood in Srinagar. The city is the center of an Islamic insurrection that has raged for 11 years in this Himalayan province divided between Indian and Pakistan.

Devanand Thakur, a guard at the State Bank of India near the blast site, said the deadly second blast occurred 10 minutes after the first.

``Everything was dark. We could see dust and smoke in the air. People were running,″ he said.

Seven or eight motorcycles, five cars and a dozen shops were badly damaged in the second explosion, said Manohar Singh, a paramilitary soldier who said most of the dead were believed to be policemen. Caps of the dead policemen were strewn on the road, which was deserted within minutes as shops shut down and terrified people scurried for cover.

``I have removed seven bodies. They were all in uniform,″ Singh said.

Elsewhere Thursday, police in the Kashmiri winter capital of Jammu arrested a man they said was a Hindu militant with two improvised explosive devices. One of them was timed to go off at 10 a.m. on Aug. 15, India’s Independence Day.

Kashmir has been wracked by a separatist movement since 1989, when Muslim militants began fighting Indian security forces. The militants want Kashmir to break away from India and remain independent or merge with Pakistan. The conflict has left 25,000 people dead.

On July 24, the Pakistan-based Hezb-ul Mujahedeen suddenly announced a cease-fire, angering other militant groups opposed to talks that did not involve them or Pakistan. In nine retaliatory attacks on Aug. 1 and 2 in southern Kashmir, guerrillas massacred 102 people, mostly Hindus.

The Hezb-ul Mujahedeen called off the cease-fire on Tuesday, saying Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had refused to involve Pakistan in the dialogue.

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