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‘All 5 militants killed in Kupwara encounter were foreigners’

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It was a very difficult operation: IGP

Srinagar, Mar 22: All the five suspected Lashker-e-Toiba militants killed in the 48-hour long Kupwara encounter in north Kashmir were foreigners, the police said today even as the government forces launched a search operation in a dense forest area to locate a missing Army soldier.

Apart from the five militants, the fierce gun-battle which ended yesterday also claimed the lives of three Army soldiers and two policemen.

An Army official said a search operation was on as the forces were looking for an Army trooper reported missing since yesterday.

According to police, the encounter broke out in the Halmatpora area, at least 8 kms from the Line of Control (LoC), after a police party intercepted a group of militants.

A joint team of the Kupwara police along with companies of the Army, the Territorial Army (TA) and the CRPF were engaged in the operation which began Tuesday morning.

According to sources, the group of militants sneaked in nearly 8 kms across the Line of Control (LoC) after crossing two ridges of the Shamsabari mountain range.

The militants had met their “reception party” (over-ground workers and militants already present in the Valley) after crossing the LoC and were proceeding towards Kupwara town when they were spotted by police personnel, officials said.

The militants, who were hiding inside a mosque, started running towards the forest, but not before four of them were killed by the government forces on Tuesday. The fifth militant, who hid at a height and was firing on the approaching government forces, was killed last evening.

A police spokesman said in the encounter, five militants were neutralised.

All are believed to be foreign militants and part of a group that had freshly infiltrated the LoC, he added.

In the encounter, two policemen Deepak Thusoo and SPO Mohammad Yousuf, three Army personnel Sepoy Ashraf Rather of 160 TA, Zoravar Singh of 160 TA  and Naik Ranjeet Khalkho of 5 Bihar lost their lives, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a wreath laying ceremony was held for Thusoo at the District Police lines here where IGP Kashmir S P Pani led the government forces in paying tributes to their slain colleague .

Talking to reporters, Pani said the operation was in concluding stages as search operations were in progress.

“It was a very difficult operation in view of thick vegetation and open area,” the IGP said.

He said all the five militants killed in the gunfight were foreigners. “On the basis of material recovered from the site of the gunfight, it looks the slain militants were associated with Lashkar-e-Toiba militant outfit,” he said.

Pani said that the operation is at “controlling stage” and that searches are underway at some places.

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