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August 10, 2000
It would have been a hot story for Pradeep Bhatia
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
This would have been a hot story young Pradeep Bhatia, the visiting Hindustan Times photographer, would remember, but little did he or other accompanying journalists know it was a trap. Along with them, scores of policemen, their officers and members of the security forces.
A low intensity blast 10 minutes before the huge car bomb and we scribes, including Pradeep, were at the spot. Seconds later, as a car bomb exploded on the upmarket Residency road, the main business centre in Srinagar, Pradeep was the first to fall to the ground.
There was nothing left of the white Ambassador which exploded, its burning flotsam flung far and wide. On the ground limbs and bits of flesh and metal scrap were strewn around.
I had a miraculous escape along with several others.
As I reached the State Bank lane, I saw a posse of policemen from the adjacent Kothibagh police station surrounding the area. They were led by area Superintendent of Police Pankaj Dard and his deputy Kuldeep Sharma. Some policemen were inspecting the Ambassador.
As vehicles were being checked, there was a massive explosion and I, along with CNN producer (and former rediff.com correspondent) Suhasini Haider, fell down, with shrapnel flying over. There was smoke and dust all around.
A complete silence followed. Then the birds flew high on an otherwise very pleasant afternoon in Srinagar.
Nine policemen and Bhatia died on the spot. Many others were wounded.
It did not end there.
The security forces then opened fire. I pulled Suhasini inside a shop, where we took shelter till other officers and fire brigade engines arrived. The area was placed under siege. Ambulances ferried the wounded to hospital.
Srinagar was tense after a brief lull in the violence this past fortnight, during which the Hizbul Mujahideen announced a ceasefire.
Shopkeepers downed shutters and the city wore a deserted look, while troops fanned the area.
"This has shaken my confidence. They have managed to strike in the SBI Lane, a high security area," said Ghulam Mohammad, a shopkeeper.
"The situation is at its worst. It has worsened recently," said another shopkeeper.
In a nearby shop, its owner Bashir Ahmad collapsed. An ambulance took him to hospital. Bashir had suffered a massive heart attack and the doctors declared him dead on arrival.
"They can strike anytime and anywhere. They have demonstrated this," added Sameena, hiding in a shop.
Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said, "Such dastardly acts come close on the heels of the kindling of hope of peace among people through dialogue."
Dr Abdullah conveyed his sympathies to Bhatia's family, whose body will be flown to New Delhi on Friday. An hour before his untimely death, Pradeep had told a colleague, "Picture hi nahin ban rahi hain. Aaj shayad mile (I am yet to get a picture. But I may get one today).''
As his colleague saw his body being taken to the police hospital, he said, "He has not got a picture. He has become one."
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