Srinagar: At least two dozen persons, including some police officers, were injured Tuesday after hundreds of people clashed with police in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district over killing of seven militants by the Army in Lolab forests on Monday. The angry protesters stormed a police station and damaged some vehicles and bunkers before curfew was imposed in the area.
Hundreds of residents of Lalpora, Dardpora, Syed Mohalla, Diver, Tikipora, Darpora, Rangwar and Ratnaar assembled outside police station Lalpora demanding bodies of the seven militants, eyewitnesses and officials said.
Ali Mohammad, a Sarpanch from Lalpora, said protests erupted after word spread in the area that the seven men killed by Army in Lolab on Tuesday were not militants but hunters hailing from Warnow area. Chanting pro-azadi, pro-militants’ and anti-India slogans, the protesters were demanding the bodies for identification and for burial.
“In anger and frustration people reached the police station to have a glimpse of the bodies. However, police told them to wait for sometime because doctors were conducting post-mortem. Suspecting foul play, the people crashed the gate and barged into the police station,” Mohammad told Kashmir Reader.
The protesters damaged four CRPF vehicles, three police vans, and two bunkers inside the police compound. The police station also suffered damage in the attack by protesters.
“The CRPF and police fired warning shots and burst teargas canisters to disperse the protesters. After a brief lull, the protesters resurfaced and continued renewed attacks on the forces,” he added. The protesters swelled in numbers as more and more people from Sonnad, Shalpora, Thundusa and other neighborhood areas joined in.
During the clashes that continued for several hours, hundreds of rounds of ammunitions were fired by government forces to disperse the stone pelting youth. However, the youth regrouped and pelted stones on the highly guarded police station. A DSP from CRPF’s 98 battalion Tashu Sahu, a police Assistant Sub-Inspector Abdul Majeed, three policemen, two media persons, and over a dozen protesters were injured in the fierce clashes. The injured media persons have been identified as Mohammad Amin War of The Tribune, Mubashir Hussain of News 24 channel. They were hit by stones on head.
“I was taking photographs of the bodies in the compound of the police station when stones rained. Before I could take shelter behind a wall, a stone hit my head and I fell into the drain. I got three stitches in the head,” Hussain told Kashmir Reader.
The protesters, he said, were trying to force their entry into the police station and to see the bodies of the militants.
Eyewitnesses said that a bystander Mohammad Ashraf was injured when angry protesters hurled rocks at an ambulance belonging to sub-district hospital Sogam.
Fearing situation might go out of hands, the district administration imposed curfew in the area. The authorities also handed over bodies of the slain militants to the local Auqaf committee to cool the tempers.
“Rumors had been floated in the area that the seven slain men were not militants but civilians. A large number of people converged outside the police station and asked police to show them the bodies. The SHO told them to wait for some time because the doctors were conducting post-mortem. However, the people tried to forcibly enter the premises. Some people also pelted stones on the police station leading to clashes,” Deputy Commissioner (DC) Kupwara, Itrat Hussain told Kashmir Reader.
As a precautionary measure, he said, restrictions were imposed after the clashes to bring situation under control.
“We handed the bodies to the Auqaf committee for burial. All the slain men have been laid to rest. The situation is absolutely under control,” the DC added.
Meanwhile, thousands of people participated in the funeral prayers of the seven militants before their burial in the martyrs’ graveyard Lalpora.
“Over 10,000 people from various villages of Lolab attended their Nimaz-e-Jinazah (funeral prayers) which was led by local imam Saifullah War,” Mohammad Sanaullah, a senior Auqaf member told Kashmir Reader.
Meanwhile, in a joint presser at Army’s Sector 8 Headquarters in Lalpora, Lolab, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Kilo Force Lt Gen S K Saini and Deputy Inspector General Police (DIG) north Kashmir Range, J P Singh said all the slain militants were Pakistanis affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit.
“The killing of the militants is a big achievement for us and a huge blow to the LeT. Our men faced difficulties to track the militants due to the arduous terrain. However, we managed to neutralize seven of them,” Saini said.
He said the militants were active for a long time in Lolab forests and were planning attacks on the forces. “We have recovered Pakistani documents from them that established they’re foreigners. The operation in the area is still in progress,” he added.