Grenades Fired at Top Kashmir Official

Suspected Islamic guerrillas fired two grenades in an apparent attack on the top elected official in Indian-controlled Kashmir Saturday, but no one was hurt.

The attack came as shelling continued at the Kashmir border despite international calls for restraint. Pakistani artillery and mortar fire killed three people and shattered homes Saturday in the Indian-controlled section of the Himalayan province.

The grenades were fired at a board of education office building as Farooq Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu-Kashmir state, was inaugurating it in Bemina, a suburb of Srinagar.

One grenade exploded in midair and the other landed in a nearby pond, said a senior police official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The attack comes as India and Pakistan are on war footing over a series of terrorist attacks by Islamic fighters trying to wrest the state from Indian control. Pakistan has vowed to crack down on the militants, but small attacks have continued.

A previously unknown group called al-Medina claimed responsibility for the attack, Press Trust of India reported.

Abdullah's attendance at the event had been kept secret for security fears.

Abdullah is one of the most well-guarded politicians in India. He travels in a bulletproof car, his motorcade carries powerful electronic jammers to prevent a remote controlled bomb explosion, and elite commandos called the Black Cats guard him at all times.

Army and paramilitary soldiers cordoned off the area and launched a search.

At least 24 people were wounded in mortar and artillery firing overnight in Jammu-Kashmir state, an Indian government official said on condition of anonymity.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors are at their highest in three years after a December assault on India's Parliament by five attackers who New Delhi said were Pakistanis backed by Pakistan's spy agency. Islamabad denied the allegation.

Heavy shelling continued overnight and into Saturday morning in the border area of Punch, 150 miles north of Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, the official said.

The dead included two civilians and a soldier, he said. Eleven soldiers were among the wounded.

Firing also began Saturday morning in Naushara, about 90 miles north of Jammu, damaging several houses, the official said. Shelling was also reported in Londi, 50 miles south of Jammu.

India and Pakistan have reacted coolly to a call from the United States and several other nations for an end to the border shelling and the resumption of direct peace talks to end five decades of hostility.

``We examine all options and take action at an appropriate time,'' Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said Friday, when asked about U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plea for a halt to shelling. He said India had announced a moratorium on all hostile action in November, but added the situation had since changed.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Rumsfeld visited the subcontinent this month, hoping to ease tensions between India and Pakistan and the fears of a fourth war between the neighbors. The two nations fought an 11-week border conflict in the summer of 1999 that also threatened to blow up into full-scale war.

There have been some signs of progress in defusing tensions. Earlier this month, New Delhi lifted a six-month ban on Pakistani aircraft flying over Indian airspace and pulled back warships from positions close to Pakistan.

On Friday, a Pakistani navy spokesman said Pakistan likewise has decided to recall its warships and submarines from undisclosed wartime locations.

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has given his assurance — relayed to India by Armitage — that he had ordered his army to stop movement across the Kashmir frontier by militants who stage attacks on civilians and security forces in Indian territory.

A senior army officer in Srinagar, Jammu-Kashmir state's summer capital, told The Associated Press on Friday that there had been noticeably fewer militant attacks and battles between guerrillas and Indian security forces since Musharraf's assurances last week.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring more than a dozen militant groups fighting for independence of the Himalayan region or its merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan. Islamabad says it provides the militants with only moral and diplomatic support. The 12-year insurgency has killed more than 60,000 people.