SRINAGAR: Eight security personnel and three militants were killed in one of the deadliest strikes on government forces in south Kashmir's Pulwama district with authorities calling off the operation today morning.

The deadly gunfight erupted at a police facility in Pulwama which was stormed in a pre-dawn raid yesterday by a group of Jaish-e-Mohammad militants who hurled grenades and fired indiscriminately at the forces while breaking into the highly garrisoned area.

Authorities launched an evacuation drive inside the District Police Lines soon after it was stormed by militants, believed to be foreigners, who took refuge inside one of the many buildings in the area. Initial probe signaled at lapses in security that allowed the gunmen to break into the area, sources said.

However, J&K Police chief, SP Vaid, denied any lapses on part of security personnel, “How can you stop such an attack when the assailants have come prepared to die,” he said in Srinagar, on the sidelines of an event.

Officials said the families of policemen and CRPF troopers deployed for duty in the district, who live in apartments built inside the police lines, were evacuated to safety on Saturday morning as more reinforcements were called in and a three layer cordon was laid around the area.

Police said two buildings were set on fire by the gunmen “who were well-trained and grounded for a long haul,” sources said. The District Police Lines is home to hundreds of J&K police personnel and CRPF troopers who are deployed in various areas of the volatile Pulwama district to deal with law and order problems. The district has seen the highest recruitment into ‘new militancy' over the last two years.

Sources said after having broken through the secured gate of the police lines at around 4 am yesterday, the militants fired indiscriminately at the buildings inside and hurled grenades towards the security personnel in order to create panic. In New Delhi, Rajiv Mehrishi, the union home secretary, told reporters that the encounter came up for discussion in a meeting with the union home minister Rajnath Singh.

“The terrorists set fire to one building, while the number of terrorists involved has not been accurate enough but they are definitely between two to four,” he said.

As the encounter prolonged to more than 12 hours, drones were flown around the police lines to keep an eye on the movement of gunmen, sources said. A J&K police personal and two CRPF troopers were killed in the initial exchange of gunfire.

“Three cops, who were trapped in one of the buildings were killed when militants hurled grenades and set fire to it. Two more CRPF soldiers were killed after the encounter was over when they were attempting to defuse an IED planted by the militants in the area,” sources said, taking the toll of security personnel to eight.

Officials said at least eight security personnel were also injured in the fierce exchange of gunfire which lasted for more than 18 hours.

Anticipating protests, authorities have snapped mobile internet services in the district while restrictions have been imposed around the site of the siege where additional reinforcements have been dispatched to prevent any law and order problems.

The bodies of the slain militants were taken to Baramulla where they were buried in a graveyard in Gantmulla area today.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)