Mosque stand-off continues, 4 civilians freed
8 February 2002
The Times of India
SRINAGAR: Two militants holed up in a village mosque in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir freed four civilians, including the Imam of the shrine, who sought to negotiate their surrender, after keeping them hostage for several hours even as the face off between militants and security forces continued. Deputy inspector general of police for Kupwara and Baramulla districts Mohammad Amin Shah said the person whom local authorities earlier claimed to be a militant and killed in retaliatory action by security personnel was in fact a villager who died of cardiac arrest near the besieged Jamia Masjid at Tutigund village, 72 km from Srinagar, on hearing gun shots and sound of grenade explosions. He said the stand-off between the militants, possibly foreigners, and the security forces continued as efforts to persuade them to surrender bore no fruits. ''We tried our best to see a peaceful end to the crisis and sent in civilians to persuade the militants to surrender but they refused,'' Shah said.He said efforts were on to ensure safety of the place of worship and peaceful end to the crisis. The ten-hour siege of the mosque took a dramatic turn at one stage when the militants held hostage a four-member civilian team, headed by the Imam of the mosque, sent inside by the authorities with an appeal to surrender, official sources said.However, the militants let off the civilians without any harm but hardened their postures by resorting to grenade throwing and intermittent gun fire towards the troops. There were no casualties, they said. Militants fired at the troops from under barrel grenade launchers, the sources said. The trouble started around 8.30 am when BSF jawans on a routine patrolling had a chance encounter with the militants at the village. After the brief encounter, the militants escaped and took shelter in the local mosque with the troops on hot pursuit.Major General Dalvir Singh, who is supervising the operation, directed the troops to exercise restraint and avoid damage to the place of worship, the sources said.Maj Gen Singh repeatedly appealed to the militants to lay down arms. ''We will wait till you come out of the mosque and surrender,'' the officer was heard telling the holed-up militants through public address system.This is the second incident of militants taking shelter inside a mosque in north Kashmir within five days. Earlier on February 3, two Hizbul Mujahiddeen militants remained holed-up for two days inside a mosque at Tarzoo village in Sopore area of Baramulla district and finally surrendered.