Woman among the killed, 4 others with bullet injuries referred to Srinagar; troops blow up house after moving out locals who ‘dared troops to kill them along with the militants’
Anantnag: Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Bashir Lashkari, who carried a bounty of Rs 10 lakh on his head, was killed along with another Lashkar militant by government forces here in Dialgam area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district on Saturday. Two civilians, including a woman, were killed when government forces allegedly opened fire on protesting locals near the encounter site. Police said the two civilians were killed in cross fire. Four other civilians with bullet injuries and another ten with pellet injuries were brought to Anantnag district hospital during the day. The civilians with bullet injuries have been referred to Srinagar for specialised treatment.
The encounter took place in Breenthi village of Dialgam, in a small locality of a few houses located at some distance from the rest of the habitation. Eyewitnesses said that more than a dozen civilians ran to the house where the militants were hiding and locked themselves inside along with the family that lived in the house.
“The family, which had sheltered the militants, and their neighbours stayed with the militants, refusing to come out. They dared the forces to kill them along with the militants,” a local told Kashmir Reader.
Police, however, said that it was a hostage crisis and the militants had held the civilians at gunpoint. “We had to ensure that the hostages were released first. It took a lot of effort,” Director General of Police SP Vaid told Kashmir Reader.
Eyewitnesses refuted the police claim. “There were 17 civilians inside. If militants had to take hostages they could have only taken the family hostage. Why did others join them? They were ready to die for the militants,” locals told Kashmir Reader.
The gunfight began after the civilians moved out of the house. It is not clear why they moved out if they had gone inside to stay with the militants. An audio clip of a conversation between a local and his acquaintance, which circulated on social media during the day, suggests that the army had allowed locals to get the militants out of the house and take them away.
“But the informer used a firecracker to create chaos. The army thought militants had fired and opened fire at civilians, killing a woman,” the local is heard saying to his acquaintance in the audio clip. He goes on to say that many have been injured and one more youth has been shot dead, named Tariq. Later it was known that nobody named Tariq had died in the firing.
The local also suggests that people had reached close to the house where militants were hiding and were about to rescue the militants. “But somebody created confusion by saying the militants had escaped,” the local is heard saying.
Kashmir Reader could not independently verify the veracity of the recording.
A fierce gunfight raged after the civilians moved out of the house. Government forces brought in reinforcements and helicopters were pressed into service, from which the paratroopers kept a vigil at the house.
As the gunfight continued, forces used explosives to blow up the house. The blast apparently killed the two militants, for the guns fell silent after that.
“Bodies were retrieved from the rubble and both militants were identified later,” a police official said.
The bodies were yet to be handed over to the families when this report was filed.
Hundreds of people thronged the site of the encounter as forces withdrew from the site. People raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans and threw stones at the forces’ vehicles when they were returning to base.
Director General of Police SP Vaid told Kashmir Reader that the encounter concluded with the killing of Bashir Wani alias Lashkari and Azad Malik, also of the LeT.
“The civilians were killed in the cross fire,” Vaid said. Later, however, a police handout said the militant killed with Bashir was Abuz Maaz of Pakistan. Police reports suggest that the area was cordoned off at about 5:30am Saturday morning, following inputs regarding presence of militants. “It was a joint operation of army, police and the CRPF,” a senior police official told Kashmir Reader.
As soon as the cordon was laid, locals began moving towards the house where the militants were believed to be holed up. Government troops were pelted with stones and the troops fired bullets and pellets to scatter them. Locals said that the troops fired in indiscriminate manner at the protesting people when the gunfight with the militants had not yet begun.
“It was no cross firing. They fired indiscriminately at unarmed civilians,” locals alleged.
Many civilians injured in the firing were taken to Anantnag district hospital. “Five people had bullet injuries and all of them have been shifted to Srinagar. Other ten were brought in with pellet injuries,” Medical Superintendent of the hospital, Dr Majid Mirab, told Kashmir Reader.
He said that a lady named Tahira Begum was brought dead to the hospital. “She had a bullet wound in her chest,” a doctor at the hospital said.
One of the injured who was shifted to Srinagar succumbed to his injuries, said Dr Amin Tabish, Medical Superintendent of SKIMS. The youth named Shadab Ahmad Chopan was brought dead to the hospital.
In the evening, hundreds of people attended the funeral of the slain woman, Tahira Begum. After her burial, people were assembled at Shadab’s house in Dehruna area, awaiting his body.
Locals said that the ambulance carrying Shadab’s body had been stopped by police at Awantipora and they were not allowing the ambulance to move ahead.
Superintendent of Police Awantipora, Zahid Malik, denied the allegations. “We have not stopped anybody,” Malik said.