Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:22 AM GMT8
AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Indian police shot dead four suspected Islamist militants in the western state of Gujarat on Friday and said the men were planning to attack religious sites in the communally sensitive region.
The shootout in Gujarat, the scene of bloody Hindu-Muslim violence four years ago, came a little over a week after suspected Muslim militants set off two bombs in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, killing 15 people and wounding dozens.
Police were conducting routine searches in Gujarat’s main city of Ahmedabad after midnight when they were shot at from a house and returned fire, state police chief A.K. Bhargava said.
"Two of them are Pakistanis and the other two Kashmiris," he said. Another police officer said the men were from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militant group fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir.
The identities of the men were established through some leaflets, telephone diaries and mobile phones found in the house, senior police officer P.P. Pande said. Four pistols and some explosive material was also found.
"They had planned to bomb religious places and also train other terrorist cells," he added.
In 2002, Hindu-Muslim bloodshed wracked the state after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire originally blamed on a Muslim mob but later determined by an inquiry to be an accident.
Rights groups say about 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, died in reprisal attacks across the state.
Security experts say the violence drew Muslim militant groups to Gujarat to avenge the killings.
In one high profile attack, Islamist militants with guns and explosives raided a Hindu temple in Gujarat in 2002, killing 31 people and wounding more than 80.