Srinagar, India - Three suspected rebels disguised in army uniforms hijacked a taxi in Indian Kashmir on Friday and killed three people before being shot dead by security forces, police said.
The attack was the deadliest in months by suspected militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan territory and came just ahead of India's general elections in which Kashmiris are slated to vote.
The rebels seized the shared passenger taxi early Friday morning near the international border with Pakistan in the south of the scenic territory, police said.
The dead included the driver of the vehicle hijacked by the gunmen near Dayalchak, 340 kilometres (211 miles) from Kashmir's main city Srinagar. A passenger and a soldier also lost their lives.
The gunmen dressed up in army uniforms fired at the jeep used as a shared taxi to ferry people between towns and then hijacked it, killing the passenger on the spot.
They abandoned the vehicle near an Indian army artillery unit a few miles away.
Security forces intercepted the gunmen, triggering a three-hour firefight that ended with the deaths of the suspected rebels and one of the soldiers.
“All three militants were killed. Their bodies were recovered as well as that of the driver,” inspector general of police, Rajesh Kumar, told AFP.
Kumar said the gunmen have not yet been identified and no militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
It was not immediately clear if the gunmen killed the taxi driver or whether he died in the exchange of fire with soldiers, police said.
About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1989 for independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan.
Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.
Security was stepped up across Indian Kashmir after Indian elections were announced earlier in March.
Kashmiris will be voting in the polls that will be held in five stages to ensure security of voters across the restive territory between April 10 and May 7.
The Indian government and security establishment had recently expressed fears of a possible escalation in rebel attacks in Kashmir ahead of the election.
In the last major attack in September 2013, suspected rebels attacked a police station and an army unit near the area where Friday's incident happened, killing 10, including two police and four soldiers.
Overall violence has ebbed sharply in recent years but Kashmiris say they still chafe at the heavy Indian military presence in the territory.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and administered separately. But the territory has been claimed in full by both since independence from Britain in 1947.