NEW DELHI (AFP) — Indian police shot dead two alleged Islamic militants during a fierce gun battle in a Muslim area of New Delhi Friday, including a leader of a shadowy group behind a spate of deadly bombings.
The fighting erupted around a house in Jamia Nagar, in the south of the capital, when police acting on a tip-off discovered a group of around five armed men holed up in a building in a maze of narrow streets.
The ensuing hour-long battle came less than a week after the city was hit by coordinated bomb attacks claimed by the group of one of the slain men.
"In this operation, Atif alias Bashir, who was one of main leaders of the Indian Mujahideen, was killed. He is linked with the blasts all over the country," New Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadhwal told reporters.
Over the past five months, serial bombings claimed by the Indian Mujahideen have hit the cities of Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and New Delhi -- leaving at least 130 dead and many more wounded.
The police official said the operation ended with two militants dead and one in custody. Two others managed to flee.
New Delhi was rocked by blasts in busy shopping areas last Saturday that left 22 dead and around 100 wounded.
The wave of nationwide attacks have forced the government to confront the emergence of an indigenous Muslim militancy.
The dramatic shoot-out in India's capital came a day after the government unveiled new security measures designed to tackle what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said were "vast gaps" in intelligence gathering on militants.
The cabinet approved proposals to hire 7,000 additional policemen in New Delhi, install surveillance cameras in busy areas and create a research wing in its intelligence agency.
Singh said India had to face up to the growing involvement of home-grown militants in attacks.
In the past, India has focused its limited counter-terrorist and intelligence resources on neighbouring Pakistan, which it accuses of orchestrating militant attacks.
Hindu-majority India has around 140 million Muslims. While tensions have always existed, India's Muslims have in the past largely resisted organised militancy.
Indian Muslim leaders, however, have complained their community was being victimised by security forces.
Earlier this month, a top Indian Islamic cleric appealed to the central government to halt what he said were a wave of indiscriminate arrests and killings of Muslims in counter-terror operations.
After the gun battle Friday, the mood in the neighbourhood near the capital's Islamic university was tense with local young men watching suspiciously as hundreds of police poured in.
"We Muslims are always the terrorists," muttered one upset teenager as he walked away.
Local leaders tried to get the crowd to disperse by calling them for afternoon prayers.
"Our people fear that the police are not impartial. Our people fear that our children are being targeted," said Faiyaz Ahmad Khan, an engineering professor at the city's Jamia Millia university, who was at the scene.
"The Muslim people here are saying the incident has been faked. To catch one man they kill 100 innocents."
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