Sumo driver killed in army firing at Kupwara

Sumo driver killed in army firing at Kupwara
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Magistrate to head inquiry after locals clash with police, SSP Kupwara gets four stitches on his head

Funeral prayers of Asif Iqbal Bhat | Photo: Nissar Malik

Kupwara: The driver of a Tata Sumo vehicle was killed when fired at by army soldiers outside his home in Thandipora village in Kralpora area of district Kupwara late Saturday night. According to locals of the area, Sumo driver Asif Iqbal Bhat, son of Mohammad Iqbal Bhat, was at home in Thandipora Kralpora when someone from the nearby Batpora village called his mobile number and said that a patient had to be taken to hospital. Asif, they said, had just stepped out of his home with a torch and as soon as he started the engine of his Sumo vehicle, an army team that had laid an ambush in the area fired at him.
Neighbours said they heard gunshots after Asif started his vehicle. When the family of Asif and other neighbours came out, and rushed towards the vehicle, they saw Asif in a pool of blood and some army men standing around the vehicle. When the army men saw people coming towards them, they fled from the spot by jumping into their vehicles.
Mohammad Iqbal Bhat, a forest guard and the father of the slain driver, confirmed that Asif was taking his vehicle to ferry a patient to hospital. He said that the army men who had laid an ambush in the area fired upon Asif and killed him on the spot.
Gulam Mohammad, uncle of the slain driver, informed that Asif parked his vehicle some yards away from his home. He said that Asif received a call from someone in Batpora village to ferry a patient, and soon after he started his Sumo vehicle, army men fired at him without any warning.
People living in nearby houses said that they and their families rushed out when they heard gunshots and found Asif in a pool of blood inside his Sumo vehicle. They said they took Asif to the nearby sub-district hospital in Kralpora, where doctors referred him to Srinagar. He succumbed to his injuries near Yunso village on the Kupwara-Sopore road.
The neighbours said there was no gunfight or militant hiding in the area, and Asif was not killed in any cross-firing.
Soon after the incident, a large number of people, including women and children, held protests and blamed the army for killing the driver. They said that the army men fired without any warning or identification. They said that since a long time the army had been telling civilians to use a torch or some other light while travelling in the night, and yet they fired at Asif even though he was using a torch.
The government authorities suspended all internet services in Kupwara district on Saturday night and they remained suspended even on Sunday.
On Sunday morning, people from several villages, including Thandipora, Batpora, Kralpora and others, went to Batpora village where they received the body of Asif, which was brought in an ambulance. The people carried the body through the village and blocked the Kupwara-Chokibal road for some time, where clashes broke out with government forces. People hurled stones and rocks at the police, which fired dozens of tear smoke shells and kept fighting the people for hours. Several civilians and some policemen, including SSP Kupwara Shamshar Hussain, sustained injuries during the clashes. Local sources said that the SSP was hit by a stone on his head and had to undergo four stitches to stem the blood.
At about 1pm in the afternoon, people buried the body in the local graveyard at Thandipora. The gathered people shouted anti-India, anti-army, pro-Pakistan, pro-Azadi, and pro-Islam slogans during the funeral.
A complete shutdown was observed during the day in Thandipora, Kralpora, Kupwara and other nearby areas, where all shops and business centres remained shut. Public transport also went off the roads.
The army in a statement said that Asif was killed in cross-firing. Srinagar-based army spokesperson Lt Col Rajash Kalia said that based on information of presence of some militants in Thindpura village, the army placed ambushes to maintain surveillance over the area on the night of 16/17 December. At about 10:55pm, the ambush party observed suspicious movement of three persons near a local nallah in Thindpura village. The individuals were challenged by troops, but they opened fire towards the army ambush party, which was retaliated. In the crossfire, a Sumo driver Asif Iqbal Bhat, son of Mohammad Iqbal Bhat of Thindpura, was killed due to gunshot wound.
The police, on their part, said they have registered a case at police station Kralpora and started investigation. A police officer, who wished that he not be named, said that police have registered a case but did not say under what Section/s.
There are several army units in Kupwara and though people said that it was soldiers from the 21 Raj Rifles who killed Asif, police sources could not confirm the name of the army unit.
Thandipora is a village on Kupwara-Chokibal road about four kilometres from Kralpora town. It is about 20 kilometres from district headquarters Kupwara.
Elected MLA from Langate, Engineer Rasheed, tried to reach the protest gathering being held at Batpora along with dozens of his supporters, but policemen did not allow him to join the protestors and instead arrested him.
The district magistrate (DM) of Kupwara said he has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the killing. Talking to Kashmir Reader, Khalid Jahangir, who is also the Kupwara DC (Deputy Commissioner), said, “I have ordered a magisterial inquiry and the additional district magistrate Kupwara, Mohammad Abdullah Malik, has been appointed as inquiry officer. The team will submit their report within 21 days. People of the area have been asked to cooperate with the inquiry team.”
—With inputs by Asim Shah

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