SRINAGAR, India // Indian soldiers today gunned down a senior member of the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group, blamed for the November attacks in Mumbai, after a fierce firefight in Kashmir, police said. An Indian soldier was also killed and three others wounded in the 18-hour gun battle which started last night on the outskirts of Sopore town north of Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital. "Abu Hamza, senior commander of Lashkar-i-Taiba was killed in a fierce encounter," Anand Jain, a senior police official, said.
Later hundreds of Muslim mourners, shouting "we want freedom", took to the streets with Hamza's body. Lashkar has denied responsibility for the Mumbai attacks that killed 179 people. But it has claimed responsibility for scores of suicide attacks on security forces in its fight against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region, where officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since 1989.
The group, designated a terrorist outfit by the United States, said last week for the first time that armed struggle was not the only way to deal with the Kashmir dispute. Violence involving Indian troops and separatist guerrillas has declined significantly since India and Pakistan, which both claim the region but rule in part, began a slow-moving peace process in 2004. New Delhi has put a "pause" on that dialogue after the Mumbai attacks.