Islamic Militants Slay Women, Children in Kashmir

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Seven women and children have died violently in Indian-controlled Kashmir in recent days, as Muslim militants avenge behavior they consider pro-Indian or anti-Islam.

Three children were the latest victims, shot dead while asleep in a village near the cease-fire line dividing the disputed territory between rivals India and Pakistan, police reported.

Gunmen barged into the house of Munshi Mohammed Khan in a village called Samoot, killing his sons, four-year-old Irfan Hussian, Asim Mohammed, six, and Nazarat, 12.

Khan, who moved to the village to get away from accusations in his native town that he was an informer for the Indian Army, was injured in the attack.

Earlier another three women were shot dead, apparently for not wearing the traditional veil favored by radical Muslims, the burqa.

The murder of two students and a school teacher came just hours after a deadline set by militant Muslims for Kashmiri women to start wearing the veil expired.

The students were abducted from their homes, while the teacher was picked up by militants while attending a wedding function at a relative's house.

Police officers said the three seemed to have been specifically targeted as all belonged to moderate Muslim families and didn't wear veils despite threats from radicals.

Muslims are in majority in Kashmir state but the veil is not popular in the Rajouri district, where a larger proportion of females have moderate views.

Exactly who was behind the threats - and the killings - remains unclear. Police blamed a group called Al Badr Mujahideen, but locals said Lashkar-e-Jabbar, an offshoot of a better-known militant gang called Lashkar-e-Toiba, was behind the burqa campaign.

Lashkar-e-Jabbar group surfaced in the area two years ago, when it warned Muslim women and girls of dire consequences if they did not cover up.

It imposed dress codes for Muslim women, threatening to shoot any who did not wear veils.

Minority Hindu women were ordered to wear a traditional "bindi" - the colored dot on the forehead - while Sikh community women were told to cover their heads with saffron-colored cloth.

After an incident in which men threw acid at schoolgirls not wearing veils, resentment against the militants grew in the local community.

All major extremist groups then distanced themselves from Lashkar-e-Jabbar, which was not heard of for a while.

Several months ago, however, a huge banner appeared at the main entrance of an institution called the Government Degree College, setting a December 19 deadline for burqa wearing, and threatening "dire consequences" for non-compliance.

Indian para-military police set up a camp at the college in recent months to provide security, but their presence did not prevent the abductions and killings.

Less than 24 hours after the triple killing, another woman was beheaded.

An Islamic legal body called the All India Muslim Personal Law Board condemned the campaign, saying Islam should not be used to justify terrorism or the killing of innocents.

Board convener Syed Shahabuddin said in New Delhi the militants' behavior was "un-Islamic" and should be condemned.

Islam "does not permit anyone to take innocent lives," either Hindu or Muslim, he said.

Radical Hindu activists have called for the government to impose strict control in the state.

Regional analyst Ajai Sahni of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi said Monday the spate of killings showed a growing gulf between militants and ordinary citizens in the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir.

"The jihadis [holy warriors] would like to drive women out of schools and public places, and behind the veil and the zenana [women-only quarters]. Obviously, there is a complete disconnect here between the popular will and a violent extremist minority," he said.

Militants in Indian Kashmir are fighting either for Kashmiri independence or for the entire Muslim-majority territory's incorporation into Pakistan.

A newly-elected government in the state is keen to hold a dialogue with separatists but has been accused of going soft on terrorism.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the militants. Islamabad denies the charge, but characterizes the Kashmiri groups as "freedom fighters" waging a just struggle for self-determination.

India and Pakistan, both now nuclear powers, have fought two wars over Kashmir since they achieved independence in 1947.

More than 60,000 people have died during the violent, 13-year secessionist struggle.

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