Suspected separatist rebels have shot dead three members of India’s governing Hindu nationalist party in Indian-administered Kashmir, two days after New Delhi enacted new land laws which the residents decried as a “land grab”.
The attackers on Thursday fired at a car the three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members were using in the southern Kashmir Valley’s Kulgam district.
The three were taken to a hospital, where they died, police said, calling it a “terror attack”.
The BJP says they were members of the party’s youth wing and one was the general secretary of the wing’s Kulgam unit.
In a tweet late on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the killing of his party members. “They were bright youngsters doing excellent work in [Kashmir],” he said.
Modi’s BJP called the killings a “barbaric terror attack”. “Those who are responsible for this will not be spared,” the party posted on Twitter.
Government forces launched a search for the gunmen, police said. Officials did not immediately reveal other details and no rebel group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the region in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Kashmiri Muslims want the territory to be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Thursday’s attack came two days after New Delhi enacted laws allowing any of its citizens to buy land in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The laws have exacerbated concerns from residents and rights groups who say the measures are aimed at changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority region.
Until last year, non-residents were not allowed to buy property in Indian-administered Kashmir.
But in August 2019, Modi’s government scrapped the region’s special status, annulled its separate constitution, split it into two federal territories – Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh – and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.
The move triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid an unprecedented security clampdown, communications blackout and arrest of hundreds of leaders and activists.
Kashmiri rebel groups have intensified attacks since the region’s semi-autonomy was revoked.
Altaf Thakur, a local BJP spokesman, said the party has lost nine members in rebel attacks so far this year. In July, rebels shot and killed a top regional politician along with his father and brother, who were also party members.
India describes the Kashmiri rebellion as Pakistan-sponsored “terrorism”. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.