Unidentified militants blew up a security wall with a car bomb and stormed one of India's most revered Hindu religious sites Tuesday, setting off a fierce gunbattle with police and paramilitary forces that left all five attackers dead, a senior official said, reports the AP.
Police also found the dead body of a sixth man, but it was not immediately clear if he was also an attacker, or a civilian killed in the explosion, said Alok Sinha, the home secretary of Uttar Pradesh state, where the temple complex is located.
The sprawling 80-acre (32-hectare) complex in the northern city of Ayodhya where the attack took place is at the heart of India's biggest religious controversy. It is where Hindu nationalists demolished an ancient Muslim mosque in 1992, sparking religious riots that killed more than 2,000 people.
"Five militants have been killed," Sinha said. "Three (members of the) security forces have been injured." The assault lasted nearly two hours.
He said the attackers used two vehicles in the assault - a jeep loaded with bombs that blew up part of a wall at the outer periphery of the high-security complex, and a taxi they used to reach the complex posing as tourists. The driver of the taxi was arrested and was being questioned, he said.
Sinha said it was too early to say who was involved.
According to Sify News, India, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the terrorist attack occurred away from the makeshift temple in Ayodhya and the shrine was intact. Patil said the aim of the attackers was to create a "serious situation" and efforts were on to identify those responsible.
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav rejected charge that the attack was reflective of a security lapse.
"There was no security lapse at the campus and this is why the militants could not reach the makeshift temple and all of them were liquidated", Yadav was quoted as saying by The Hindu. Earlier, Union Minister for State for Home Sri Prakash Jaiswal said in Lucknow that there was some "security lapse" which led to the attack.
The security forces were fully alert or else how could all the heavily armed militants be checked a good 150 metres away from the Ram Lala makeshift temple," Yadav said.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party called for a nationwide strike on Wednesday to protest the assault. "To attack the Ram Janbhoomi, the holiest shrine of the Hindus, is a very serious thing and there should be an equal reaction," BJP President Lal Krishna Advani said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a Cabinet meeting in New Delhi to discuss the possible fallout of the attack, reports the AP.
Hindu leaders claim the mosque in Ayodhya, 550 kilometers (345 miles) east of New Delhi, was built by Mogul rulers at the site of a Hindu temple. They believe the site is the birthplace of Ram, the highest god in the Hindu pantheon, but Muslims say there is no proof of that claim. The dispute is still working its way through India's courts.
According to Hindustan Times, there were several similar attacks in the past. In September 2002 two terrorists laid siege to the temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, with 30 people killed and over 100 wounded. The siege continued through the night, with 50 devotees trapped inside the complex. By 6:45 am the next morning, the commandos ended the 14-hour long ordeal by shooting the two terrorists. Ten people were killed and 53 injured when a militant attacked the temple in Jammu on Nov 25, 2002. The terrorist hurled grenades and fired indiscriminately. Security forces later shot him dead.
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