Srinagar: The police and the army have made contradictory claims over the killing of a civilian Tata Sumo driver outside his home in Thandipora village of Kupwara. Soon after the incident happened late Saturday night, police claimed that the victim, Asif Iqbal Bhat, was killed after being mistaken as a militant. Later, the army put out a different version: that Asif was killed in an exchange of gunfire with militants.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kupwara, Shamsheer Hussain, told local media that Asif’s killing was a case of “mistaken identity”.
“As per the army authority’s version, soldiers had laid an ambush in the area. The Sumo driver was asked to stop but he didn’t, and was then shot by them. This is very unfortunate and regrettable. We will hold an inquiry into the matter and whosoever is guilty will be punished,” Hussein was quoted as saying on Sunday.
Later the police came out with an official statement, in which they completely ruled out that any cross-firing took place between militants and the army in the area. The police stated that Asif was “seriously injured after being hit by a bullet at Thandipora in the jurisdiction of Police Station Kralpora”.
“He was shifted to Sub District Hospital Kralpora for treatment, from where he was referred to Srinagar hospital for further treatment where he succumbed to his injuries,” the police statement said, adding that a case has been registered to investigate the killing.
The army in its statement contradicted the police, asserting that Asif was killed in cross-firing between militants and army soldiers. “Based on information of presence of terrorists in Thindpura village, army placed ambushes to maintain surveillance over the area on night 16/17 December. At around 2255h (11:55 pm), ambush party observed suspicious movement of three persons near nallah in Thindpura village. The individuals were challenged by troops, however, they did not respond,” the statement signed by Srinagar-based army spokesperson Col Rajesh Kalia stated.
“Thereafter, militants opened fire towards army ambush party which was retaliated to,” Kalia stated. “In the crossfire, one person, later identified as Asif Iqbal Bhat, a resident of Thindpura, was killed due to gunshot wound.”
The army spokesperson added: “It is learnt that he was a Sumo taxi driver”.
Col Kalia did not pick up calls despite repeated attempts to reach him on phone.
Family members of Asif and neighbours said both the versions were false. They said that Asif was killed when he stepped out of home and started his vehicle, to go to nearby Batpora village to ferry a patient to hospital, when army soldiers who had laid an ambush nearby fired at him without warning or identification.