An Army officer and two jawans were killed during an 18-hour gun-battle, which saw the elimination of five terrorists of Pakistan-based terror outfits in Sopore district of North Kashmir.
The gun battle began on Monday night when security forces got information about the presence of Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists in Chinkipura, a heavily congested area of the Sopore town, official sources said.
The killed armymen have been identified as Captain Devinder Singh Jass, Naik Selva Kumar and Paratrooper Imtiyaz Ahmad Thokar of first Para.
However, a report from Bhopal quoting Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor said the slain officer was a Major.
A resident of Shopian in South Kashmir, Imtiyaz is the second armyman killed while fighting terrorists. In March last year, Paratrooper Shabbir Malik was killed fighting terrorists in Hafruda forests of Kupwara.
The terrorists suspected to have been killed include Bhasharat of Hizbul Mujahideen and Noman and Hamza of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Sallahuddin of Lashker-e-Tayiba and a local terrorist Tauseef Mir, the sources said.
Located 54-kilometeres from Srinagar, Sopore turned into a virtual fortress with police, army and paramilitary men marching into the area.
The terrorists, in their last ditch attempt to escape, blew up the two houses, which were being used by them to fire at security forces since 0230 hours on Tuesday morning. The security forces had cordoned off the area.
Report said security forces came under heavy fire from terrorists who hurled dozens of grenades as Special Forces of the Army approached and laid a siege of the area based on specific intelligence input.
Senior police officials were camping in the area and had been busy evacuating the locals from the locality so that a final onslaught could be launched. The Army had set up a multi-layer security ring around the Sopore town to prevent terrorists' attempt to escape.
However, Deputy Inspector General of Police (North Kashmir) range, AQ Manhas confirmed that fresh firing exchanges had broken out between the terrorists and the surrounding security forces.
"The terrorists are now firing from an adjacent house after the two houses where they were hiding during day time were razed," Manhas said.
Tuesday's encounter has dispelled the myth that the terrorists were operating independently, officials said, adding that the presence of top brass of all the terror groups was an indication that the Inter Services Inteliigence has managed to bring them on a single platform.
This is the fourth major encounter in last one month in Sopore after it was declared as a separate police division. The terror groups Lashkar and Harkat led by Abdullah Uni and Basharat in this region have some active support of overground workers as the area has a domination of Jamaat-e-Islami workers who are associated with pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, officials said.
The town earlier saw terrorists digging a road and planting an improvised explosive device inside a water supply line. This was followed by gunning down of four CRPF personnel in Watlab Bandipore area on the outskirts of Sopore.
There had been a pattern in targeted killing of police officials in the area in which information to terrorists is suspected to have been provided by the local overground workers of the terror groups, the officials said.
Additional Inputs: PTI