“While one attacker was killed in the initial gunfight, two others managed to sneak in,” acknowledged Munir Khan, Kashmir’s police chief.
At the sound of the first explosions, many residents of the nearby Humhama neighborhood took cover.
“Within minutes I gathered my family in one room, till the first light came,” said Syed Shujaat Bukhari, a Kashmiri newspaper editor who lives near the paramilitary camp.
“It was frightening,” Mr. Bukhari said.
Indian commandos were rushed in and surrounded the building where the two surviving militants were holed up. As the firefight continued, loud explosions threw plumes of smoke and dust into the air.
The Indian forces struggled to kill the militants, and the firefight lasted nearly 10 hours. Police officials said it had taken so long because security officers were trying to be careful to avoid civilian casualties. There were several guests inside the paramilitary base at the time, and security services evacuated them before moving in on the militants.
The Indian authorities blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, a militant group based in Pakistan, for the attack as they have other recent ones in Kashmir, including a raid last year that left 19 Indian soldiers dead in the border town of Uri. India responded with what it called a surgical strike against a militant camp inside the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir.
“These kind of incidents will keep happening as long as Pakistan is our neighbor,” Chief Khan said.
India and Pakistan have been locked in a bitter dispute over the mountainous Kashmir region since the partition of what was then British India in 1947. An armed insurgency broke out in the early 1990s that has largely ebbed, but recently there has been a resurgence of protests after Indian forces killed a young and charismatic militant leader, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, in July last year.
At least 70 people were killed in those protests, and hundreds of civilians have been blinded by pellet guns as security forces cracked down on demonstrators in the aftermath of Mr. Wani’s killing. Indian forces have detained hundred of activists as well.
After the attack on Tuesday, the police said they were looking for seven more militants from the same group. The airport is managed by the Indian Air Force and also doubles as a military base with many attack helicopters based there.
“When they can strike near an air force base, they can strike anywhere,” said Imran Ahmad Mir, a university student in the Humhama neighborhood. “The situation is going from bad to worse.”
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