Five Indian security forces personnel were killed in a gunfight with militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Handwara, PTI reported on Sunday. Those killed were an Army colonel, a major, two Army jawans and a police sub inspector. A top commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group from Pakistan was also killed, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar said.

Handwara is in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Several political leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered their condolences after the deaths of the security personnel. Modi said that “their valour and sacrifice will never be forgotten”.

Security forces and militants were locked in the gunfight for more than 16 hours, according to Hindustan Times. The militants were hiding in the house.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police identified the deceased jawans as Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj, Sub Inspector Sageer Ahmad Qazi, Lance Naik Dinesh and Naik Rajesh.

“Based on the intelligence input that terrorists were taking the civilian inmates of a house in Changimulla, Handwara of Kupwara district hostage, a joint operation was launched by Army and J&K Police,” an official Army statement said, according to News18. “The team was subjected to heavy volume of fire by the terrorists. In the ensuing fire fight, two terrorists were eliminated and the team of five army and J&K personnel, comprising two Army officers, two Army soldiers and one JK Police Sub Inspector, attained martyrdom.”

The Army said the civilians had been rescued. It also issued another statement praising the jawans. Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat said the operations in Handwara highlight the determination of the forces to protect the lives of people of India.

“Commanding Officer leading from the front along with other personnel of the unit and J&K Police have laid down their lives, living upto the motto, service before self,” the Army said. “The Armed Forces are proud of their courage as they have successfully eliminated the terrorists. We salute these brave personnel and express our deep felt condolences for the bereaved families.” The Army said its chief General MM Naravane paid tributes to the deceased jawans.

Unidentified police officers had earlier said that four militants were trapped at the site of the encounter. Two senior Army officers, a police officer and a security officer were also believed to have been trapped, The Indian Express reported. “We have lost touch with the team,” a senior police officer had told the newspaper. It is not known whether any of the trapped jawans are among the deceased.

The gunfight started around 3.30 pm on Saturday in Chanjumullah area of Handwara. The police alleged that the militants were found hiding in a cowshed in the house.

Teams of the Special Operations Group of police surrounded the house, and erected lights around the area of the encounter.

However, the security forces killed two militants in Dangarpora area of Pulwama district earlier on Saturday, according to the Kashmir Zone Police. The incident led to stone-pelting by residents of the area. Officers of the Central Reserve Police Force said that as the troops were leaving, a grenade was lobbed at them.

Spate of encounters in recent days

On April 29, three militants were killed in a gun battle with security forces in Melhora village in Shopian district. On April 22, four militants were killed in a gunfight in the village.

On April 27, three militants were killed after an encounter broke out in Lower Munda in Qazigund area of Kulgam district. The encounter began when militants fired upon a police patrol party in Lower Munda.

The previous day, the security forces killed four militants in an encounter in Kulgam district. On April 24, the police had rescued constable Sartaj Ahmad Itoo, who was abducted, and killed two militants in a brief shootout in Shirpora Frisal area of the district.

On April 23, militants had abducted constable Javaid Jabbar in Shopian district. However, they set him free within hours.