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Temple siege ends, 32 including two militants killed, revenge angle apparent
By Zafarul-Islam Khan
|New Delhi, September 25: The night-long operation to clear the Swaminarain temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat state's political capital, ended this morning after a 12-hour standoff when the two terrorists were killed by the elite National Security Guard (NSG) commandos who were flown overnight from Delhi. One NSG commando too was killed in the encounter.
Announcing the end of the operation, Inspector General of Police Pramod Kumar said there were three terrorists in the age group of 22 to 25 and efforts were on to identify them. Later this number was brought down to two.
According to a police official in Gandhinagar, three NSG commandos and seven other security men including one superintendent of Police have been injured during the operations. The other security man who was killed in the operations belonged to the State Reserve Police.
Earlier official estimate of the terrorists talked of "two to four" terrorists while eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that they were five. The earlier reported number of the casualties too was brought down from 44 to 30. But since 77 injured persons are in hospitals, some with serious injuries, the casualty figures may rise.
The remaining 50 people who were trapped in the temple complex overnight were rescued this morning after the end of the operations. Others, totaling around 500 had succeeded to leave the sprawling temple complex last night.
Even after the operation was called off, an explosion occured around 0910 this morning in the temple complex. Officials said that it might have been caused by some left over ammunition.
According to official and eyewitness reports, the terrorists came in an Indian make Ambassador car at around 4.45 last evening. They entered the Swaminarain temple by jumping the fence. The temple is the largest shrine maintained by the Swaminarain Hindu sect which is popular among Gujratis at home and abroad.
The terrorists first hurled grenades, and opened fire indiscriminately at people inside the temple. Security forces from Gandhinagar were rushed to the spot and surrounded the temple and a gun-battle followed. More troops soon joined them and within hours a plane-load of NSG arrived from Delhi.
The terrorists reportedly took a vantage position inside the complex, from where they inflicted injuries on security personnel trying to get closer.
As if a rehearsed line, both Gujarat state and central ministers started talking of a Kashmiri angle to the incident. Home Minister LK Advani said while still in Delhi that the attack was “a deliberate design to divert attention from the successful J&K poll”. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, on official tour of the Maldives, repeated the same in Male and their protégé in Gujarat, chief minister Modi, too parrotted the same and clearly accused Pakistan of engineering the attack.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has cut short his Maldives visit and is returning today. There is speculation that he may head straight to Gandhinagar. His deputy LK Advani is already in Gandhinagar and toured the temple this morning alongwith Modi. In sharp contrast these officials were not seen anywhere for days and weeks while Gujarat burnt in March and April this year.
Also in sharp contrast to the earlier pogroms, Army was quickly deployed this time in sensitive areas of Gujarat as a precautionary measure. A brigade comprising over 3,000 personnel has been placed on "precautionary deployment. A red alert has been sounded across Gujarat since Tuesday evening following the attack on the temple.
Patrolling has been stepped up in all areas of the city. Ahmedabad city police force has been put on high alert. Security was stepped up in Vadodara and Surat as well. A Rapid Action Force company reached Surat late in the evening and staged a flag march.
In Delhi too "special alert" has been sounded all over the city, Joint Commissioner of Police Satish Chandra said this morning. Security arrangements have been made particularly in the sprawling Chhatarpur temple complex, the ISKCON temple, the Baha'i temple, Malai Mandir, Laxmi Narayan temple, the Hanuman temples at Connaught Place and Yamuna Bazar, Gaurish temple in Chandni Chowk and other prominent shrines, police sources said. Police personnel have also been deployed outside important Gurudwaras, churches, mosques, Buddhist monasteries and Jain temples.
Security in and around other government buildings, particularly the VVIP areas and the Diplomatic Enclave in Delhi has also been tightened with intense patrolling and increased number of barricades and additional deployment of police and paramilitary personnel.
The attack has come in for sharp condemnation by all forces in India including Indian Muslim organisations. Condemning the terrorist attack on the Swaminarain temple, President APJ Abdul Kalam Tuesday night said it was "cowardly act intended to destroy the country's secular fabric..The incident needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms by all peace loving people. It would make us more resolute in our resolve against terrorism."
In New Delhi, Imam of Delhi's historic Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari Tuesday night condemned the attack on the Swaminarain temple terming it as "anti-Islamic" but said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's 'Gaurav Yatra' [pride march] could have provoked it.
"Islam does not permit killing of innocent civilians. I appeal to Muslims and our Hindu brethren to join hands to wipe out terrorism from the country's soil," Bukhari said. He, however, said some anti-minorities statements allegedly made by Modi during his 'Gaurav Yatra' and the post-Godhra violence in the state "could have provoked a retaliatory act."
Condemning the attack as a "conspiracy to defame Islam and Muslims," president of the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques, Maulana Jameel Ilyasi, demanded stern action against the culprits. "The attack is against the teachings of Islam and this kind of anarchy is unacceptable to Indian Muslims," he said.
Foreign forces too condemned the attack on the temple. Both US and UK, which have said nothing officially about the Gujarat pogroms, forcefully condemned last night's attack.
US President George W Bush said it was a "particularly deadly attack". "The President condemns all terrorist attacks, and this was a particularly deadly attack and the President condemns it," Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in Washington Tuesday.
Shortly after the White House comments, the US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had said "We're shocked by the horrific attack. We condemn the senseless violence. We've seen no claim at this point of any responsibility. And, of course, we send our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and the government of India."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, denouncing the temple attack, said "I am horrified by the attack on innocent civilians. Religion can never be an excuse or justification for violence."
The attack also figured in the British House of Commons with MPs suggesting that such dastardly acts should be condemned wherever they happen. The issue was raised by Barry Gardiner, MP, Chairman of the Labour Friends of India.
In Islamabad, a Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday condemned the attack and said "targetting places of worship is particularly reprehensible." "Such attacks do not promote any cause and are indeed aimed at heightening tension in the region," the statement added.
Expressing grave concern over the terrorist attack in a Hindu temple in Gujarat, Amnesty International, in statement in London this morning, urged the state authorities to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to provide protection to civilians in the state, regardless of political or religious affiliation.
Security forces in Gandhinagar claimed this morning that documents found in the possession of the two slain terrorists have led officials to believe that they belonged to a militant outfit called "Tahreek-e-Kasas-Gujarat". Roughly translated, the organisation would mean 'movement of revenge for Gujarat'.
Brigadier Raj Sitapati of the NSG, who led the operation, said that two separate letters written in Urdu [language of Muslims] had been found from the pockets of the two terrorists who were aged around 25 years. “The letter mentions that the killings were to avenge what happened during the Gujarat riots”, he said. The letter states that the two terrorists planned this attack “for the satisfaction of their souls because they could not tolerate what happened to children, women and Muslims during the Gujarat riots”.
Officials believe that the outfit Tehreek-e-Kasas was formed specifically to avenge the Gujarat riots. The terrorists were using Austrian-made plastic grenades which, Brig Sitapati said, were commonly used by terrorists infiltrating across the line of control. Foodstuff like chocolates, raisins, almonds and dates were also found in the possession of the two terrorists which means that they may have planned to take hostages.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP-World Hindu Organisation], which engineered the Gujarat pogroms, has called a 'Bharat Bandh' [All India strike] tomorrow, September 26, in protest against the attack on the Swaminarain Temple, while its mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh urged the people of Gujarat to maintain peace and not to fall prey to the designs of anti-national terrorists.
The ruling BJP has decided not to support the VHP strike this time round. The same party had wholeheartedly supported the strike called by the same outfit last February after the terrorist attack on the train in Godhra. That strike led to the pogroms in Gujarat. The whole state burnt for weeks while the authorities in both Gujarat and Delhi simply watched and are since trying to shield the culprits.
condemn Swaminarayan temple attack