SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Kashmir’s oldest school was burned down Monday, destroying one of the world’s oldest copies of the Quran and thousands of other rare Islamic texts, in a suspected arson attack that some blamed on Islamic militants targeting moderate Muslim leaders.

The destruction shocked many in the disputed Himalayan territory, with the loss of the 105-year-old Islamia Higher Secondary School – where some of the region’s most prominent figures studied – and of its 30,000-book library.

People came out into the streets in protest in Srinagar, the capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, and shut down shops. Hundreds of the school’s students staged a protest march.

The school, set up in 1899, was a landmark symbol of the movement to modernize Islam – the region’s first religious school to offer courses in English and the sciences. The brick and wood structure in the center of Srinigar also had architectural value with its high arched windows and ceilings of cedar logs.

On Monday, the building was reduced to the charred brick skeleton, with soot and burned-out book and furniture strewn around the premises.

The library, which included one of the rarest manuscripts of the Quran, handwritten by Usman bin Affan – the third “Righteous Caliph” of Islam – was completely destroyed, said Shahid-ul-Islam, party secretary of the Awami Action Committee.

No one claimed responsibility for Monday’s blaze, senior police officer Javed Ahmad said.

The school was run by a religious and educational trust led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Kashmir’s highest Islamic leader and head of the Awami Action Committee, who has been targeted in recent months by suspected Islamic militants fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

Farooq is also a leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a political grouping that seeks independence from India but has used political methods instead of insurgency – bringing accusations from militants that the movement is pro-India.

Farooq’s uncle was killed by unidentified attackers while praying in a mosque on May 29. Police blamed Islamic insurgents for the attack.

“Those who were behind my uncle’s killing are responsible for Monday’s arson. By doing this, these people want to weaken us and our institutions,” Farooq told The Associated Press in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state.

Islamic guerrillas often target moderate Muslims, even ones that seek Kashmir’s independence from India through peaceful means. Two moderate Kashmiri separatist leaders, Mohammad Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone, were killed last year by suspected rebels.

Farooq’s father, Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq, was killed by suspected insurgents in his home in Srinager in 1990.

Moderate leaders started a dialogue with the Indian government in January and are scheduled to hold a third round of talks this month. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1949.

The school, with some 2,500 students, was closely identified with Farooq and his movement. It was first started under a trust set up by Farooq’s grand uncle, Mirwaiz Rasul Shah, and Farooq now heads the school’s trust, called the Anjuman-e-Nusrat-ul Islam, or Society for the Victory of Islam.

“The school was Kashmir’s first step toward modernity,” said a tearful Ashraf Andrabi, a retired engineer and a former student. “It has been the alma mater of everybody who has been anybody in Kashmir.”

Until 1989 – when the separatist Islamic insurgency broke out – the school employed teachers from Kashmir’s Hindu community. But they fled after attacks began on Hindus during the uprising.

The militants want Kashmir to be independent or merged into neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan. The violence since 1989 has killed about 65,000 people, and is one of the main points of discord between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.

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