In a terror strike on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Jammu Division, militants wearing combat uniform on Thursday attacked two Army bunkers close to Indo-Pak border leaving 10 people including three civilians and as many army men dead in a fierce gun battle with security forces.
The dead also included four heavily armed militants who were holed up in a bunker after they were suspected to have infiltrated into Arnia sector from across the border in Jammu district to carry out a fidayeen attack.
At least one militant was still taking refuge in a bunker and the encounter was underway, police said, adding that tanks were also deployed in a possible step to blast the bunker. The bunkers are abandoned and used only during war.
Modi is due to address a rally in Udhampur district, which is 100 km from Arnia. The attack also coincided with the SAARC summit in Kathmandu attended by Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
"3 civilians have lost their lives along with 3 army personnel, my condolences to the families. 4 militants have been neutralised in Arnia," Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.
"The timing of the attack in Arnia can't be a coincidence," Omar said, adding "Some things will never change, SAARC summit is on, Ind & Pak PMs (sic) at the same venue and a fierce encounter breaks out in Jammu."
Omar said all police nakas along the National Highway in Jammu and other sensitive locations have been put on high alert and the situation is being closely monitored.
"As per initial reports from the area, a group of four to five militants infiltrated into Arnia belt from across the border this morning and resorted to firing," a police officer said, adding the security grid of Army, BSF and Police swung into action and launched a cordon and search for the militants.
An Army official said the militants changed their dresses and wore combat uniforms near a bridge and resorted to firing before entering two bunkers of its 92 Infantry Brigade at a security embankment in Pindi Khattar belt close to the IB.
Security personnel recovered the belongings of militants that included their dresses, blue coloured belts and shoes, an Army official said.
A car has also been seized from the area which might have been used by the militants, the official said.
The official said that militants had either come in this vehicle to carry out the attack or were supposed to take it after infiltrating into Indian territory and take the National Highway route as part of their terror plans.
Inspector General of BSF, Jammu frontier Rakesh Sharma, however, ruled out infiltration of any militant group at the IB in Jammu sector, saying no breach of fencing was seen anywhere.
"There were no tell-tale signs that anybody has sneaked from this side. We have surveyed 20 km along the border in this area, we have seen no such signs. Here everything is alright. There is nothing wrong with the border fencing. Border fencing is totally intact, border lighting is perfectly working and surveillance grid is intact," Sharma said.
The three army personnel, who lost their lives in the encounter, have been identified as Lance Naik Kulvinder Singh, Lance Naik Jagsir Singh and para trooper Balwinder Singh.
A senior District administration official said that one of the deceased civilian has been identified as Sunil Sabarwal.
IGP Jammu Rajesh Kumar, who briefed the media, said that exchange of fire was taking places intermittently.
"At-least four militants had come of the bunker but their numbers could also be higher," he said, adding that additional forces including police units, CRPF and others have been brought in and searches were being conducted.
Police teams have been sent in all the border areas to verify whether any splinter group might not have escaped, he said and added that all districts have been put on alert.
He also said investigations were on about how the militants reached there.
"We have conducted detailed survey of IB and indepth area along it but no signs of their infiltration were found," he said.
Meanwhile, a suspected militant was arrested after security forces foiled an infiltration bid this morning near the LoC in Rajouri district.
Troops noticed some suspicious movement near LoC in Leharan Company Operating Base in Lam Battalion area of Rajouri district around 0630 hours today, a senior army officer said.
The security personnel responded immediately and foiled an infiltration bid, he said.
During the search operation, a suspected militant was apprehended and one AK-47 assault rifle with 30 rounds, one Pakistan made pistol and Rs 8,100 Pakistan currency were seized from his possession.
He was identified as Adul Qayoomi alias Punjabi, he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to campaign for BJP in second phase of assembly elections in Udhampur and Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir on Friday.
Modi will address a rally in Udhampur district, which is 100 km from Arnia.
According to Kashmir BJP spokesman Farooq Khan, Modi will address rallies in Udhampur district and border district of Poonch at 12 PM and 2:30 pm on Friday.
Following the terror attack, BSF has beefed up the security along the border and also in Jammu city, Udhampur and Poonch areas.
Army had on Thursday said militants were out to disturb the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir but the forces were on alert to foil their designs.
Army sources said in Delhi that the civilians could have been killed prior to the attack. It was unlikely that the civilians were killed in army firing, the sources maintained.
Image used is for representational purposes only.
-- With inputs from Agencies