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Religious Site Attacked in India; Ethnic Violence Feared

Posted: July 8, 2005

A two-hour gun battle between unidentified militants and security personnel erupted at a controversial religious site claimed by both Muslims and Hindus in Ayodhya, India.


On July 5, militants destroyed a metal security fence protecting Ram Janmbhoomi, a Hindu temple, by driving a car filled with explosives into it.  The Central Reserve Police Force indicated that five attackers who stormed the shrine after the explosion were killed by security forces during the gun battle; the body of another suspected militant was found near the scene of the blast.  Three policemen were wounded during the clash.

The compound in Ayodhya was the site of another attack in 1992 when Hindu nationalists demolished a 16th century Muslim mosque that stood there.  That attack sparked religious riots that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslim.  The Hindu nationalists accused 16th century Muslim rulers of building the mosque on top of a temple marking the birthplace of Ram, a Hindu deity. 

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack; however, Hindu nationalists, including the head of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, blamed the assault on Pakistan-backed Muslim militants from Kashmir and called for nationwide protests across India.

The largest militant group in Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahedin, denied any involvement in the attack and blamed Hindu hardliners for trying to incite anti-Muslim riots (there are over a dozen militant groups fighting for Kashmirís independence or its merger with Pakistan).

The attack in Ayodhya was the first major act of violence against a Hindu temple since the Akshardham temple in Gujarat was attacked in 2002.  Authorities claimed that attack was carried out jointly by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Kashmir-based Jaish-e-Mohammad with support from Pakistanís Inter-Service Intelligence.  Twenty-eight people died in the 2002 attack.    

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