Four houses blasted to rubble, forces happy to have made ‘dent’ in Hizb cadre
Pulwama: After blasting and razing to ground at least four residential houses, government forces were finally able to kill the lone surviving militant, who fought for about thirty hours after his two fellow militants were gunned down, early Monday morning, here in Bamnoo village of Pulwama.
The forces still believe that they were engaged by more than one militant and a body or two might be under the debris of the houses bombarded to dust.
“Three bodies have been retrieved so far from the site of the encounter,” Pulwama SP, Choudhary Aslam, told Kashmir Reader.
He said two of the slain militants have been identified as Kifayat Khanday of Bamnoo village and Jahangir Khanday of Chak Kellar.
“The third militant could not be identified as of now,” Aslam said, adding, that efforts are being made to ascertain his identity.
Kifayat’s body has been charred badly. He was identified by his family on the basis of the weapon he carried.
“His family recognised the weapon he carried. His identity was further established by his body’s location on the encounter site,” Aslam said.
Aslam told Kashmir Reader that there might be more bodies beneath the rubble but the police have not been able to use bulldozers to look for the bodies, given the fact that the house is located on an elevation.
Sources said that the police had to leave the spot in a hurry following eruption of intense clashes soon after the encounter concluded at about noon.
While there were speculations that the slain militants followed Zakir Musa, who recently distanced himself from Hizbul Mujahideen, the army has maintained that the slain militants belonged to Hizb.
“We have been able to make a dent into the cadre of Hizbul, after a long time. This operation has been a huge success,” Commanding Officer (CO) of army’s Sector-12, Harbir Singh, told media persons.
He told the media that Kifayat had joined militant ranks in May this year and Jahangir was a militant since November 2016.
Arms, including an AK-47, one INSAS rifle and one SLR, have been recovered from the site of the encounter, the army said.
The encounter broke out in Bamnoo village at about 7:00 AM Monday morning, after forces cordoned off the village, acting on inputs that militants were in the region.
While the area was being cordoned off, both Kifayat and Jahangir, as per police, used indiscriminate fire as cover and tried to flee the spot.
“They were, however, gunned down in the process,” a senior police official told Kashmir Reader.
What ensued after that was a long-fought battle by a scantily armed lone militant, who kept a huge cordon of armed forces on tenterhooks.
As per local sources, the forces kept firing explosives at the house from a distance and eventually at about 10:30 PM Monday night the house, along with another adjacent to it, caught fire.
“Soon after, we were expecting the encounter to be over in a matter of an hour. But it was not to be,” a top police source told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the militant, as the fire engulfed the houses, started firing from a different location, a third house in the vicinity.
“Whoever he was, he was a well trained man,” the official said.
The forces kept firing explosives at the new location of the militant and he continued fighting till Tuesday noon.
The fire, as per locals, stopped coming from his side only when at least 4 houses were completely gutted.
For all these 30 hours, Jahangir and Kifayat’s bodies kept lying within the cordon and were collected only after the gunfight was over.
Soon after the encounter was declared over and the troops started leaving the site, hundreds of people came to the streets and engaged the forces in an intense stone throwing battle.
Local sources said that the stone throwing was so intense that police had to wind up the combing operation, despite their belief that more bodies might be beneath the rubble. Clashes continued throughout the day today. Some people sustained minor injuries during the clashes.
Meanwhile, massive protests erupted in Pulwama with people demanding the body of the third slain militant for burial. Police, however, handed over the body to the militant’s family from Reasi.
Eyewitness told Kashmir Reader that hundreds of people from different villages of Shopian and Pulwama districts took to the streets, demanding the remains of the third militant slain during a long drawn gun fight with troopers.
Forces resorted to firing in the air and tear smoke shelling to disperse the protesters, who in retaliation attacked them with stones. During the clashes that continued for about an hour, several people were injured, one of them critically.
“We received a youth with shell injuries in his head. After first aid, we referred him to Srinagar hospital for advanced treatment,” a doctor at district hospital Pulwama told Kashmir Reader.
Aslam told Kashmir Reader that body of the militant, Mohammad Akhtar Alam from Reasi, was handed over to his family soon after his mother identified him.
—With inputs from Bilal Habib