Blast kills Muslim leader in Indian Kashmir

Moulana Showkat Shah, who had condemned practice of throwing stones at security forces, dies in attack outside mosque.

     Shah's suspected assassination was the first such attack near a religious place in Indian Kashmir in recent years [EPA]

    A bomb blast outside a mosque in Indian-administered Kashmir's main city has killed a prominent
    Muslim religious leader, the first such attack near a religious place in recent years.

    Moulana Showkat Shah, chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith, was entering a mosque in Srinagar to lead Friday prayers when the bomb went off.

    "I heard the blast and immediately came out of the mosque to see him [Shah] lying in a pool of blood. There was a mangled bicycle nearby," Sajad Ahmed, a local resident, told the Associated Press agency.

    Parvez Bukhari, a local journalist, told Al Jazeera that police confirmed that a bomb on a bicycle exploded close to the entrance of the mosque, injuring Shah and one other person.

    "The blast was a mild one, it did not even create a small crater ... it does seem that the bomb was triggered by a remote control as he approached it.

    "SM Sahai, the chief of police of Kashmir, said that 'it seems that he was the target'," Bukhari said.

    Targeted before

    Shah, an associate of Yasin Malik, the leader of a moderate faction of the secessionist movement, was not liked by anti-Indian groups and his home was hit by a grenade in 2008, police said.

    Last year, he condemned the common practice of throwing stones at Indian paramilitary forces as part of resistance against Indian rule in the region.

    However, no group claimed responsibility for Friday's fatal attack.

    The United Jehad Council, an umbrella organisation of more than a dozen armed groups based in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, condemned Shah's killing and said this was "the handiwork of Indian agencies".

    The council emailed a statement to the Srinagar-based Kashmir Media Network news agency.

    The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an alliance of separatist political and religious groups in the Indian portion of Kashmir, offered condolences for Shah's death and called a general strike for Saturday.

    Bukhari said that it while it was difficult to speculate who might be responsible for the attack, it is worth noting that "people talk about Moulana Shah as the first person to say that throwing stones at security forces was an un-Islamic act".

    Red alert

    The Greater Kashmir newspaper reported on Friday that authorities sounded a red alert in Srinagar following the blast, with shops closing and people moving indoors, though there were reports that youth took to the streets in certain areas to protest against the killing.

    "There are a few hundred people assembled outside the mosque, getting ready to bury him," Bukhari, the local journalist, said.

    There are also three to four hundred police and paramilitary forces present, ready to take care of the situation if protests erupt," he said.

    Separatist violence in Kashmir, which is claimed in full but ruled in part by India and Pakistan, has fallen to its
    lowest since an armed rebellion broke out in 1989.

    An estimated 50,000 people have been killed since then.

    The state is still seething with anti-Indian sentiment, which last summer erupted into large-scale demonstrations for independence.

    More than 100 people were killed, mostly in police firing.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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