Indian troops raid Sikh shrine; fighting fierce
Indian soldiers, backed by armored vehicles, raided the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar Wednesday to flush hundreds of heavily armed extremists from the holiest Sikh shrine.
Lt. Gen. R. Sunderji, commander in chief of the western command, said 250 Sikh militants and 48 members of the security forces were killed in fierce hand-to-hand fighting Tuesday night and early Wednesday inside the temple complex.
About 150 people were wounded and 450 Sikh extremists captured, General Sunderji told a press conference in Chandigarh, the Punjab's state capital.
The Indian government immediately braced itself for acts of Sikh retalation in response to the attack on the temple, ordering state governments and diplomatic missions abroad to take precautionary measures.
Sunderji said troops also attacked 38 other Sikh shrines, five Hindu temples, and one mosque throughout troubled northern Punjab State to arrest troublemakers. More than 1,000 Sikhs were arrested in the operations, official sources said. No casualties were reported.
Sunderji said Wednesday that mopping-up operations were still going on inside the temple.
Informed police sources said a hard-line Sikh preacher, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and 14 supporters were holed up inside the complex's main shrine, keeping troops at bay with heavy gunfire.
(Later in the day, a government spokesman said the extremists remaining in the main shrine of the temple had surrendered. But informed sources said firing was still going on inside the complex.)
Home Secretary M. K. Wali told reporters in New Delhi that Sikhs who obeyed orders to leave the temple claimed extremists were threatening to blow up the shrine rather than let it be captured. An Army source said: ''It is now a fight to the finish.''
Moderate leaders Harchand Singh Longowal, president of the Sikh Akali Dal political party, and Gurcharan Singh Tohra surrendered promptly to security forces when they entered the temple grounds, official reports said. Security forces entered the complex after repeated warnings to militants inside failed to end more than two days of gun battles and intermittent firing from the shrine.