Sikh Extremists Kill Eight in New Attacks, Police Say
CHANDIGARH, India (AP) _ Sikh extremists assassinated a leading Hindu politician and his bodyguard and killed six other people today in a new surge of attacks in Punjab state, police said.
An indefinite curfew was ordered in Ludhiana after Joginder Pal Pandey, 50, general secretary in Punjab state of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s governing Congress Party, was shot dead there. His bodyguard, Sohan Lal, also was killed. Hindu protests flared in Ludhiana, the Punjab’s largest city and industrial center with about 1 million people, following the assassination, according to state police.
Ludhiana is 155 miles northwest of New Delhi and 60 miles west of Chandigarh.
The others reported killed today were two teen-age girls, two school teachers, a shopkeeper and a doctor.
Pandey and his bodyguard, both Hindus, were shot with automatic rifles by three men in a car when the politician’s car stopped at a gasoline station, witnesses said. The gunmen fled.
In Kapurthala district, west of Ludhiana, terrorists shot and killed a Hindu doctor, police said. A Hindu shopkeeper was reported waylaid and killed near the border with Pakistan.
In another ambush, two Hindu school teachers were gunned down at a river bridge near the town of Hargobindpur, 265 miles northwest of New Delhi. Police said the assailants escaped on the victims’ bicycles.
Two Sikh girls were strangled in Faridkot district, a militant Sikh stronghold close to the Pakistan frontier, state police said. No details of the attack were immediately available.
Underground Sikh extremists recently have stepped up attacks on Sikh moderates and suspected police informers.
Sikh extremists have killed 52 people in Punjab so far this year in an escalating terror campaign aimed at greater autonomy or independence for Punjab. According to police count, 540 civilians were killed in attacks last year.
The killing followed a weekend raid by Indian troops on the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, following a report that two Sikh terrorists were killed at the temple by political opponents.
Police said about 400 soldiers took part in the Saturday night raid. They found no bodies but seized a few small arms and arrested 78 people in the area, including six alleged terrorists.
Police did not link today’s assassination to the raid. Police sources said Pandey was targeted by Sikh terrorists who claimed he organized anti-Sikh riots in Ludhiana after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, mother and predecessor of Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by two Sikh guards on Oct. 31, 1984. Sikhs claimed Pandey distributed gasoline to rioters to set fires.
Sikhs form a slight majority in the Punjab, although nationally they make up less than 2 percent of India’s 750 million people.