SRINAGAR, India – Gunmen with automatic weapons killed 24 people, including two children, in a Hindu village in India’s only predominantly Muslim state early today, police said.

Shabina Khatri

The attack took place in Nadimarg, about 30 miles south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir.

The gunmen overpowered village guards and grabbed their weapons, police said.

Two children and 11 women were among those killed, said A.K. Suri, the state’s police chief.

Suri told a television news channel that a group of more than 15 armed men attacked some 55 upper-caste Hindus in the village.

Another police officer in Srinagar said the attackers overpowered the village’s security guards, snatched their weapons and began firing at the villagers.

Two of the eight guards were missing, the officer said on condition of anonymity.

Suri did not identity of the attackers but said Islamic militants might be involved as part of their efforts to drive away Hindus from the valley.

“This is not the first time it has happened,” Suri said.

The attack came a day after gunmen assassinated an Islamic guerrilla leader who was expelled from Kashmir’s biggest rebel group for holding secret talks with the government.

Most of the state’s Muslims inhabit the Kashmir valley in the north, while the Jammu region in the south is predominantly Hindu.

More than 300,000 Hindus have moved out of the valley since 1989 after Islamic militants began fighting for an independent Kashmir, or its merger with Pakistan.

Abdul Majid Dar, former Kashmir commander of the Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, was fatally shot in the town of Sopore, a separatist stronghold 35 miles north of Srinagar.

Indian security authorities were trying to persuade Dar to take up a political role in the state wracked by 13 years of separatist violence.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the insurgency, which has killed more than 61,000 people.

Pakistan denies the charge, saying it only supports the rebels’ cause and does not give them any material aid.

The South Asian nuclear rivals fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

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