Srinagar: Panic gripped Lal Chowk and adjoining areas on Saturday following rumours of a militant being present in a local hotel. Later, police identified the purported militant as a mentally challenged person.
Witnesses told Kashmir Reader that a man apparently in his 30s, wearing a black mask and a Pathani dress of the same colour, barged into a local hotel and asked its staff to leave if they wished to live.
“He threatened us that we would be killed if we don’t leave the hotel immediately. We were scared because he was wearing a mask all over his face and we took him to be a militant. We came to know later that he was a mentally challenged person. He had a stick in his hand by which he broke a glass pane of one of the hotel’s windows,” Abdul Gani, a staffer of the hotel, and other witnesses of the scene said.
A cobbler, Gulzar Ahmad, who was sitting outside the hotel at the time of the incident, said that his right hand was injured by a piece of the glass pane that the man broke by his stick.
“He was waving his hand from the window, as if giving signals to people to move aside. The people outside suspected him to be a militant intending to attack the building that houses CRPF men located in front of the hotel,” Ahmad said.
Within minutes of the man breaking into the hotel, the busy Lal Chowk wore a deserted look. While many people rushed for safety, a number of shopkeepers, pedestrians, shoppers and vendors rushed to the hotel and started raising pro-freedom slogans in front of it.
A large contingent of government forces arrived and laid a cordon around the hotel. The troops barged into the hotel and dragged out the man, witnesses said.
“He was taken to Maisuma police station and kept there for some time. From there, he was taken to some unknown place for questioning,” a police official at Maisuma police station said. He said that so far, no case has been registered against anyone.
While the man was being dragged out of the hotel, witnesses said, he was chanting pro-Pakistan slogans and the people who had assembled there were repeating his slogans.
Shutters of all shops in Lal Chowk went down and traffic went off the roads while the suspected militant was at the hotel. Later, the area witnessed clashes between youths and government troops who were pelted with stones and who resorted to teargas shelling to scatter the stone*throwing youth.
The clashes spread to several nearby areas like Gov Kadal, Sarai Bala and interiors of Maisuma, where youths hurled stones at troops and came under heavy teargas shelling.
People living in these areas alleged that the troops beat up many youth who claimed they were not involved in stone-pelting. At least four youths, including a local photojournalist, sustained minor injuries during the clashes.
A statement issued by police said “there were some incidents of stone pelting in Maisuma and adjacent areas of city Srinagar this afternoon, when a rumour was spread about presence of militants in the area.”
“Police are investigating the origin of the rumour and has questioned one person,” the statement said, asking people not to “pay heed to the rumours” and in case of any emergency contact Police Control Room on 0194-2506506, 0194 -2506507 or Dial 100.