Uri/New Delhi, Sep 18 (IANS) Four heavily-armed terrorists said to be “foreigners” sneaked into an army camp near the LoC with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday in the worst attack on a military base in the state in a decade that left 17 soldiers dead and many injured, officials said.
Over two dozen soldiers were injured in the audacious pre-dawn attack, which Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley blamed on Pakistan and called for its isolation. Some of wounded soldiers were in critical condition in Srinagar, about 70 km away.
All the four Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) fidayeen or suicide attackers, who stealthily entered the camp near Uri town at 5.30 a.m. after cutting the barbed wires, were killed in fighting that raged for some two-and-a-half hours, military officials said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the “cowardly terror attack” and assured “that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished”.
Modi refrained from saying who was to blame for the bloodbath but Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley did not mince words.
“I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan’s continued and direct support to terrorism. Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such,” Rajnath Singh tweeted.
Jaitley added: “It is clear our neighbour is using terror to create menace in our country. Our diplomacy would work in the direction of isolating Pakistan internationally.”
Islamabad rejected the allegations.
“India immediately puts blame on Pakistan without doing any investigation. We reject this,” Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria told a western news agency.
The Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, said in Delhi that some articles recovered from the slain terrorists had “Pakistan markings”.
“All four killed were foreign terrorists. Initial reports indicate that the slain terrorists belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed.”
The DGMO said four AK-47 rifles and four under barrel grenade launchers along with a “large number of other war like stores” were recovered from the slain terrorists.
Uri is near the Line of Control (LoC), which divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The camp attacked on Sunday is close to the headquarters of the army’s 12 Brigade.
According to military sources, the terrorists entered the camp from the rear after cutting the barbed wire fencing — without the sentries getting alerted.
The gunmen then resorted to indiscriminate gunfire from AK-47 rifles after quickly spreading in different directions inside the camp in a mountainous terrain of Uri.
They reportedly hurled 17 grenades in just three minutes on the tents where soldiers were asleep. This caused a massive fire as the flames also engulfed fuel tanks where some soldiers were refilling diesel in barrels. Huge columns of black smoke billowed from the camp into the sky.
Some 13 or 14 soldiers, according to Gen Ranbir Singh, were burnt to death. Many other received severe burn injuries.
Three of the militants, meanwhile, took positions inside the barracks and kept firing indiscriminately. Para-commandos who were airdropped stormed the barracks and killed the three. The fourth militant was killed outside.
The number of troops inside the camp was not known but a source estimated there must have been about 200. Most of the infantry battalion is deployed on the LoC.
The Northern Command said: “The base had a large strength of troops of units turning over after their tour of duty who were stationed in tents/temporary shelters which caught fire and resulted in heavy casualties. We salute the sacrifices of 17 soldiers who were martyred.”
Most of the dead soldiers were from the Bihar Regiment. Two soldiers of the Dogra Regiment also died.
The attack came amid an ongoing civilian unrest in the Kashmir Valley that has left nearly 90 persons dead in the last two and a half months.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the “attack was aimed at triggering fresh violence in Kashmir and creating a war-like situation in the region.
“The heightened tension in the wake of the Uri attack is set to further vitiate the atmosphere in and around Jammu and Kashmir amid increasing India-Pakistan hostility,” she warned.
In a sign that Sunday’s attack would further worsen the India-Pakistan relations, Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “Describing it as an ‘act of cowardice’ will not suffice, not countering it is also an act of cowardice.”
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh flew to Srinagar. They met top civil and security officials.