Fidayeens strike at historic Ragunath temple
30 March 2002
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Targeting heart of the City, two fidayeens (suicide squads) struck at Ragunath Bazaar, the hub of tourist activity, this morning killing seven persons including three constables and a woman pilgrim and wounding 18 others before being eliminated by the cops. One of the fidayeen forced his entry inside the historic Ragunath temple, which appeared to be main target of the terrorists, and rained bullets till magazine of his assault rifle emptied. A portion of Ragunath temple, where one of the fidayeen had taken position, suffered damage. Dattatreya temple, located within the sprawling premises of Ragunath temple, was filled with blood of the terrorist and a woman pilgrim killed there. After killing of the fidayeen, the temple was immediately closed down for the pilgrims. Police and eye-witnesses told EXCELSIOR that two fidayeens, carrying pithoo bags with them, appeared near Hari theatre in Ragunath Bazaar from a small by-lane at 1020 hours. They brought out their guns from their bags before entering Ragunath Bazaar. List of dead and injured Dead: SSB Head Constable Sarveshwar, SSB Constable Tagon Taki, JKP Constable Dheeraj Kumar, Laxman Dass of Bagh-e-Bahu, Ratno Sharma, W-o Madan Lal of Gwalior, Satish Singh (Chottu), an employee of Khalsa General Store, Raghunath Bazar, S-o Jagtar Singh of Rajpura Mangotra and Ashok Gupta, owner of Prince Studio, S-o Amar Nath Gupta of Shiv Nagar. Injured: Kuldeep Kumar, S-o Tilak Raj of R S Pura, Rakesh Gupta, S-o Manohar Lal of Gandhinagar, Pritam Jain, S-o Subash Jain of Jhullaka Mohalla, Anjum Binoo, S-o Jagdish Chander of Tallab Tillo, Vinay Sharma, S-o Bansi Lal of Canal Road, Vicky, S-o Tilak Raj of Resham Ghar, Varun Gupta, S-o Prem Gupta of Residency Road, Lekh Raj, S-o Mangu Ram of Chatarpur, UP, Puran Chand, S-o Rattan Chand of Pargwal, Anil Choudhary, S-o Kuldeep Choudhary, Sohail, S-o Rakesh Gupta of Gandhi Nagar, Manjeet Singh, S-o Kuldeep Raj of Dogra Hall, Janak Singh, S-o Paras Ram of Udhampur, Swarno Devi, W-o Mast Ram of Jogi Gate, Shanti Swaroop, S-o Vam Dev of Tallab Tillo, D N Khosa, S-o S N Khosa of Kanji House and Bansi Lal, S-o Faquir Chand of Krishna Nagar. While one of the terrorists ran towards Ragunath temple after resorting to indiscriminate firing on the shopkeepers and passers-by, his associate was struck between a wooden rehri and a Cielo car No. 3737 JK02F just in front of Munish JK Arts Emporium and Prakriti Shavel Emporium, which also suffered damage. The car driver could sense the terrorists and fled away abandoning his car. The terrorist lobbed a grenade on the car damaging it completely and gunned down a ‘rehriwalla’, who was carrying plastic goods. Within no time, the City police officers including SP City (North) Parbhat Singh, SHO Inspector Kuljeet Singh and Sub Inspector Vishal Sharma took positions alongwith police and para-military personnel. According to witnesses, SI Vishal succeeded in killing the terrorist instantly, thus, averting more casualties. Another fidayeen had gunned down Chhotu, a salesman of Khalsa General Store and Ashok Gupta owner of Prince Studio and wounded several others including two salesmen of Wazir Chand & Sons (a dry fruit shop) while reaching at main gate of Ragunath temple. At gate of the temple, he gunned down two SSB and one police constable and a cobble and entered inside. The terrorist took right side of the temple where he gunned down a woman pilgrim Rattna Sharma, who was taking ‘parikarma’ (round) of the temple after having darshan. He then moved towards the Dattatreya temple and pointed his gun towards the ‘pujari’ (temple priest). By that time, the terrorist had exhausted his magazine, which gave time to the ‘pujari’ to jump out and take shelter in a surrounding temple, where he bolted himself. In the meantime, police and para-military personnel succeeded in eliminating the terrorist. While SSB officers said that a SSB jawan Nirmal Parkash had killed the terrorist inside the temple, some witnesses said that the terrorist blew himself up with the explosive device after he had emptied his magazine. Police said about 150 pilgrims, mostly women and children (majority of whom were the tourists) were sitting in the main temple complex singing bhajans. All of them had a miraculous escape as the fidayeen was eliminated before he could reach there. Entire operation lasted about 14 to 16 minutes, police said. Panic-stricken shopkeepers downed their shutters and bolted them inside while some brave youths displayed courage and rendered full support to police and para- military personnel in killing the fidayeens. Most of the shopkeepers, getting a chance, fled from the Bazaar leaving their shops open and returned only after the terrorists had been killed. IGP Jammu Pitambar Lal Gupta, DIG Dilbagh Singh and SSP Farooq Khan also reached the spot immediately for investigations. Dead and injured were rushed to Medical College hospital in police and private vehicles where a total of seven persons including four civilians, two SSB cops and a JKP jawan were killed. Bodies of two fidayeens were also kept in the mortuary. While some of the shopkeepers and youths hugged SI Vishal Sharma for killing a terrorist, others stormed the temple, dragged out body of the terrorist and kept it on main road. They wanted to set the body on fire but police acted swiftly, packed up both the bodies in a Gypsy and shifted them to police station. A section of crowd started shouting slogans against Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and police officers. They also resorted to minor stone pelting on the cops but were immediately chased away by the cops. Meanwhile, at a press conference this afternoon, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Anil Goswami and IGP Jammu Pitambar Lal Gupta refused to entertain most of the queries by the mediamen pertaining to identity and group of the terrorists describing such questions as ‘hypothetical’. ''The terrorists or their outfit had not been identified so far'', Gupta said, adding ‘identity of the outfit given by a news channel was not correct’. Gupta even declined to admit that it was an attack on Ragunath temple. ''Apparently it was a suicidal attack, going by the modus operandi used by the terrorists. Thorough investigations are being conducted to identify the target'', he said pointing out that the terrorists had targeted cops outside the temple. Goswami said four civilians, two SSB cops, a JKP constable and both the fidayeen were killed. Situation in the town is well under control and is being watched carefully, he added. Replying to a question, the IGP Jammu said so far police hadn’t come across any link between the fidayeen attack and two terrorists killed at Niki Tawi recently. He said adequate precautions were taken by the cops to prevent such an attack which was evident from instant retaliation and killing of the fidayeens. A contingency plan was also in force to meet with any situation in the aftermath of the fidayeen attack. Steps have also been taken to prevent recurrence of such incidents, Gupta said. He asserted that security arrangements, connected with Ragunath temple and other vital installations were being reviewed at senior level frequently. If there was any laxity on the part of police, it will come under investigations, he said. ''It was our priority to ensure that suicide attack rarely becomes suicide for the civilians. Our uniformed men neutralised both the terrorists'', Gupta noted and said ‘odd incidents need not create a sense of insecurity among the people’. Meanwhile, body of one of the terrorists who was killed in Ragunath Bazaar and was shifted to mortuary of Medical College hospital, was found strapped with high quality RDX in the mortuary. ‘Fortunately, the explosive was detected by a civilian, who informed Hospital authorities’, a doctor said, adding police was immediately sounded. Explosive experts rushed to the mortuary and neutralised the explosive material. ''Had the explosive device went off, it would have blasted the mortuary as well as Spinal Ward above it, which had about 70 patients at that time'', the doctor, who didn’t want to be named, said. After eliminating the fidayeens, the police personnel evicted all pilgrims and closed down the temple for carrying out a search operation inside to ensure that the temple premises was fully safe and secure. The temple, which had been surrounded by police and para-military personnel, hadn’t been re- opened for the pilgrims till this evening. Police said the temple would be thrown open after taking all necessary precautions. Police sources tonight said that both the fidayeens looked like Pakistanis. ''In all probabilities, the fidayeens were not locals. They also didn’t appear to be Kashmiris'', they said. However, they added, there was no possibility of ascertaining identity of the terrorists unless a message of the terrorists was intercepted, which appeared to be a remote possibility. Both the fidayeen were aged between 22 and 24. They were wearing check shirts and pants. Both were carrying pithoo bags and had brought out their weapons (from the bags) only after reaching Ragunath Bazaar. Sources couldn’t say as to from which locality the terrorists came. From their possession, police recovered two AK rifles, one pistol, six grenades and ammunition. Sources said City police displayed a real ‘professional approach’ which resulted in immediate killing of both the fidayeen and prevented some more casualties. ''Had the fidayeen survived few more minutes, the casualty figure could have been very high'', they added. Moreover, the people as well as shopkeepers in Ragunath Bazaar and other markets didn’t protest against the police as they appreciated the timely action by the cops—both from police as well as SSB. Situation remained calm across the entire City. Normal activity resumed even in Ragunath Bazaar, Hari Market and Residency Road after about two hours. Meanwhile, police have further intensified security arrangements around all vital installations including Chief Minister’s residence, which was hardly 250 meters away from Ragunath temple.