Soldier kills 4 associates in Kashmir

A paramilitary soldier shot and killed four fellow troops and wounded another in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday, and troops captured a man believed to be an Islamic rebel commander who had evaded arrest for 12 years, officials said. Constable Avatar Chand, a member of the Central Reserve Police Force, started firing in a cinema hall that had been converted into a paramilitary base in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, said A.P. Maheshwari, the CRPF inspector-general.

The reason for the shooting was not immediately clear, but previous incidents have been attributed to high stress among soldiers fighting Islamic militants in Kashmir.

Soldiers are on especially high alert ahead of Thursday's Indian Republic Day celebrations.

In an operation in Kulgam, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) south of Srinagar, police late Tuesday arrested Wasim Malik, who uses the alias Abu Hamza, said Lt. Col. V.K. Batra, an army spokesman. Batra told The Associated Press that Malik was a commander of Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, the largest of about a dozen Islamic militant groups fighting to wrest Kashmir from India.

More than 66,000 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in 1989.

It is extremely rare for a rebel commander to be caught alive in India's portion of Kashmir. Most die in gunbattles.

Malik, who appeared very briefly before journalists, said only that he "had nothing to do" with an unsuccessful 1995 bombing in Jammu, Kashmir's winter capital, that targeted the state's governor during Republic Day celebrations. Authorities say he planned the attack.

Fearing an attack during celebrations of Republic Day, which marks the adoption of India's constitution in 1950, thousands of security force personnel took up positions in Jammu and Srinagar.

Also Wednesday, police killed two suspected Islamic militants in a raid on Barakh, a town 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Jammu, said Jagdish Lal Sharma, a senior superintendent of police. The alleged insurgents are suspected of belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba, another Islamic militant group, he said.

The Kashmir region is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both countries, reports the AP.

D.M.