Tension as Shias take to the streets
3 November 2000
Our Special Correspondent
BUDGAM (Kashmir): BUDGAM (Kashmir), NOV. 3. A powerful landmine blast triggered by militants in Budgam district of central Kashmir this afternoon killed six persons including the general secretary of the Pradesh Congress Committee, Aga Syed Mehdi. Immediately, tension gripped the Shia- dominated area as thousands took to the streets and raised slogans against the killers. According to police, the landmine which might have been triggered by remote-control went off when Mr. Mehdi''s bullet-proof van was near Mazhama on the Srinagar-Gulmarg road. The vehicle was blown into pieces killing the PCC leader, his driver, Showkat Ahmed, and four personal security officers instantly. The bodies were shifted to the Magam police station. The scene of the blast presented a ghastly sight. Parts of the van were found several metres away and the area was littered with blood and severed limbs. Mr. Mehdi, was on way to Magam, a Shia-dominated town around 35 km from Srinagar. As news of the incident reached Budgam, people chanting slogans rushed to his residence while followers from surrounding villages began trickling in. Shops in Budgam and Magam towns were closed and police and paramilitary forces were deployed as tempers ran high. Several political leaders have rushed to Budgam. Mr. Mehdi, a senior PCC vice-president, contested the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar constituency against the Union Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Omar Abdullah. His uncle, Aga Syed Mehmood, is a Minister in the Farooq Abdullah Government and his brother, Aga Syed Hussain, a senior Hurriyat leader. This is the second time a Shia leader has been targeted in the State. Earlier, the former Minister, Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, escaped two assassination bids in which over 20 persons died. At least 12 people including seven security force personnel were killed and several others injured across Kashmir valley since Thursday. A mosque was damaged when Pakistani troops resorted to heavy shelling in Gurez. In an encounter in Wathoora village of Budgam district, four armymen were killed along with four militants. Police sources said on specific information, security forces cordoned off the area and began an operation to flush out militants. The ultras immediately opened fire on the armymen who returned the fire. In another clash with militants at Kuthipura in the same district, two BSF jawans were killed while one militant was slain. Two civilians were killed by unidentified gunmen in Baramulla and Kupwara districts, police said. Pakistan troops resorted to unprovoked shelling in the Nowgam sector injuring one BSF jawan. He died while being taken to hospital. In the Gurez sector, a mosque was damaged and four persons were hurt in shelling from across the border. The shelling, reports said, was continuing in the Keran and Karnah sectors.