Paramilitary Troops Massacre 40 in Kashmir Town
SOPORE, India (AP) _ Paramilitary troops hunting for Muslim militants in a Kashmir town shot and burned to death at least 40 residents today, police and witnesses said.
At least 100 people were injured in the massacre, the worst in more than two years in the northern state of Jammu-Kashmir where Islamic militants are fighting for a separate homeland.
The attack apparently was to retaliate for the death of two soldiers earlier today in a rebel land mine blast outside Sopore, a town known for its apple orchards and fruit markets.
The government said the shooting started when snipers fired at troops searching the main market. A stray bullet hit an ammunition dump in one of the houses where militants were hiding and started fires that killed 37 people, said a statement by the Jammu-Kashmir government. It did not give details.
But residents said most people were killed when about 100 troops of the Border Security Force surrounded the town of 50,000 people, sealed entry points and started searching for militants in the main market a half-hour after the mine blast.
About 15 soldiers suddenly opened fire in the market, said Basheer Ahmed Lone, a fruit seller who hid under crates.
The troops then set fire to the shops. Six hours later the fire had engulfed the entire market and the neighborhood.
The troops also stopped a car and set it afire along with its occupants, said Lone, who brought some of the injured to Srinagar, the state capital.
The police control room in Srinagar confirmed the troops killed 40 people but refused to give details.
Lone said the soldiers also fired on a bus and that he saw about 20 bodies in the vehicle.
″The security forces were firing everywhere. Then I got hit and I don’t know what happened,″ said Uttar Kumar, lying in a Srinagar hospital with bandages around bullet wounds to his legs and abdomen.
Kumar had come to Sopore from New Delhi to buy fruit for his shop.
Mohammad Ramzan, who works in a fruit shop, said he was dragged out from the shop and was shot by a soldier.
″I saw several people falling down in the firing. Then this soldiers caught hold of me. After that I don’t remember anything,″ said Ramzan in Srinagar. He was shot in the thigh and abdomen.
Security forces stopped reporters who came from Srinagar at a bridge outside Sopore. Officials there refused to give details of the incident and did not allow them to go into the town.
From the bridge, which is the main entry point and overlooks the town, raging fires and plumes of smoke could be seen in several places.