Srinagar/Jammu: A high alert was sounded on Wednesday in Jammu and Kashmir’s garrison town of Udhampur and its neighbourhood after a 52-year-old civilian was injured when gunmen targeted a police party at Jhajjar Kotli along the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
It was suspected that three Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, believed to be part of a suicide squad, had infiltrated into J&K on Wednesday and after firing at the police party on the highway, had escaped into a forest area near Jammu. The security forces were conducting a search operation in several villages along the highway to capture the assailants as reports last came in.
According to late-night reports from Udhampur, as the security forces zeroed in, the three quickly walked towards a cluster of houses, barged into the house of one Mr Khajuria and held his family hostage, forcing it to serve them water at gunpoint. Police sources said before leaving the house, the trio changed clothes and moved into the nearby maize fields. “They forced the Khajuria family to provide them three pairs of shirt-trousers and after wearing them, fled towards the maize fields. We have surrounded the place to take them on,” a police officer said over the telephone.
Earlier, the the police said the injured man, identified as J&K sericulture department employee Ganesh Dass, was immediately evacuated to the Government Medical College Hospital in Jammu. Police souces said the suspected Jaish gunmen were travelling in a truck, and opened fire when a police naka party signalled it to stop for checking at Jhajjar Kotli, 32 km north of Jammu. The truck sped away towards the Udhampur side.
Udhampur is situated about 30 km from Jhajjar Kotli, and apart from several important security installations, the Army’s Northern Command headquarters is located there. Police sources said the security forces and the Army were immediately alerted about the incident.
The police later seized the truck and arrested three persons, including its driver and cleaner. Jammu SSP Vivek Gupta said a AK rifle sling with some ammunition was also seized from the vehicle. He added that a hunt was on for the absconding militants.
Panic gripped Jammu and its neighbouring areas as the three men fled into the forest between Jhajar Kotli and Nagrota on the city’s outskirts. Additional checkpoints were erected at Katra, the base camp of the Mata Vaishno Devi cave shrine, visited by thousands of devotees. Drones were also deployed over the forest areas to locate the missing terrorists.
Piecing together the morning’s events from the interrogation of the driver, from Budgam in central J&K, officials said the trio infiltrated from the Kathua-Sambha border early Wednesday. They boarded the truck at Chak Dayala, a village about 2-3 km from the international border. The special task force of the state police has taken the driver and cleaner to the place in Jhajar Kotli where they were picked up, the officials added.
The incident has come about seven months after three militants attacked Sunjwan military station in Jammu, killing half a dozen people, including five soldiers, before getting killed. In 2015, two militants had attacked a BSF convoy at Narsoo, near Udhampur, along the 294-km Srinagar-Jammu highway. In the subsequent encounter, one militant was killed and another was captured alive.