Pro-India leader, his 2 family members killed in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Unidentified assailants late Wednesday fatally shot a pro-India politician along with his father and brother in Kashmir, police said, in a first major attack against India’s ruling party members in the disputed region.

Police blamed militants fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir for the attack.

Militants fired at Sheikh Wasim Bari, a leader with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in northwestern Bandipora town Wednesday night, police said in a statement. The statement said “during indiscriminate firing,” Bari, his brother and father were injured but later died at a hospital. Bari’s brother and father also were BJP members.

The shooting is the first major attack against members of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. Bari, who was about 35 years old, was an executive council member of the party in the region.

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He helped the BJP to strengthen its base in the region and was considered the face of the party in Bandipora district.

According to police officials, at least two assailants fired at the three outside their home, which is about 100 meters from the town’s main police station.

Bari was guarded by at least eight police guards, but it was unclear whether they were present at the time of shooting.

Government forces cordoned off the area and launched a search for the attackers, police said.

Ram Madhav, the party’s national general secretary, said in a tweet that he was “shocked and saddened” by the killings.

No rebel group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, with tens of thousands of lives lost, including civilians, militants and government forces.

Muslim Kashmiris generally support the rebels’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Earlier Wednesday, Indian and Pakistani soldiers barraged each other with mortar shells and gunfire along the highly militarized frontier in Kashmir, killing a woman and wounding another in the Indian-controlled portion of the Himalayan region, officials said.

Pakistani troops hit Indian positions at two places in southern Poonch district along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two countries early Wednesday, Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. Devender Anand said.

Anand called it an “unprovoked violation” of a 2003 cease-fire accord between the two nuclear rivals. He said Indian troops “retaliated befittingly,” and the fighting continued for 45 minutes.

The 60-year-old woman was hit by a splinter while visiting relatives near the de facto border, civil administrator Rahul Yadav said. Another woman was injured and was being treated at a hospital.

Pakistan did not immediately comment. However, in the past, each side has accused the other for starting the border skirmishes in the region that both claim in its entirety.

There has been almost daily fighting over the last several months along the rugged and mountainous frontier between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, leaving dozens of civilians and soldiers dead on both sides.

Indian military says Pakistan has so far this year committed more than 2,500 cease-fire violations.

India and Pakistan have been on maximum alert since February 2019, when Pakistan said it shot down two Indian warplanes in Kashmir and captured a pilot, in response to an airstrike by Indian aircraft targeting militants inside Pakistan.

India said the strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Relations between the two countries have further strained over Kashmir since last August, when New Delhi revoked the Muslim-majority region’s decades-old semi-autonomous status, touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.

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