5 civilians killed, 116 injured; KU asst professor among 4 other slain militants
Raashid Hassan/ Mohammad Suhail
Shopian: Militant commander Saddam Paddar and Dr Muhammad Rafi Bhat, an assistant professor at Kashmir University, were among “5 militants of outlawed Hizb-ul-Mujahideen neutralized”, in the words of the police, in Badigam village of Shopian on Sunday. Bullets and pellets showered on protesters resulted in injuries to at least 116 civilians, of whom at least 18 were hit by bullets and 38 by pellets, mostly in the eyes. Police remained mum on the civilian injuries, while blaming “cross firing” for the five civilians who died of bullet wounds, four of them in firing at Nagbal village near Badigam and one at Chilipora village, according to local sources, as police had not yet identified the killed civilians.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Shopian Shailendra Kumar Mishra told Kashmir Reader that government forces had “intelligence input” of the presence of the militants in Badigam village. “The militants were hiding. During the search they fired on our party, which resulted in injury to a policeman and an army man. Later, repeated attempts were made for surrender of the lecturer. Finally he was willing to surrender but the militants killed him,” Mishra said.
Residents of Badigam said that a joint team of government forces cordoned the village at Saturday midnight. The first exchange of gunfire started at about 5:30am, followed by huge bangs of mortar shells. The operation was called off at Sunday noon.
People in Zainapora area of Shopian said that government forces blocked the road leading to Sub-District Hospital (SDH) Zainapora to stop them from ferrying the injured there.
Massive clashes were witnessed during and after the encounter at Nagbal, Chitragam, Nullay, Chilipora and adjacent villages. Eyewitnesses said it was a war-like situation; everyone in the firing range of government forces was getting hit by bullets and pellets.
Though there was no authentication on identity of the slain civilians given a communication gag and silence by the police, Kashmir Reader has compiled a list based on tentative hospital records and local sources.
The slain include Asif Ahmad Mir of Rohmoo Pulwama; Sajad Ahmad Rather of Dooru Anantnag; Adil Bashir Ganie of Mahgund Ashmuji Kulgam; Zahoor Ahmad Nengroo of Rajpora Pulwama; and Yasir Ahmad Kumar of Arihal Pulwama.
SSP Shopian Shailendra Mishra said he did not know anything about the civilian deaths. “We were busy with the operation. I don’t know anything about the civilian fatalities,” he said.
A statement released by the police later in the evening said that “unfortunately, while handling a highly volatile situation, civilians were injured in cross firing, among them five civilians succumbed to their injuries.” A press release by the government also put the number of civilians killed at five. “Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has expressed deep anguish and grief over the death of five civilians today at Shopian during a security operation,” the press release issued by the government read.
As per sources, four of the civilians were killed when government forces fired at protestors near the site of the encounter in Nagbal, while one – Yasir Ahmad of Arihal – was killed in army firing at Chilipora. Yasir, as per local sources, could not make it to hospital and succumbed on the way.
Reports said that soldiers from the army’s Bihi Bagh camp fired on stone-pelting youth, killing Adil Bashir Ganie of Mahgund Ashmuji Shopian, and injuring several others.
There were confirmations regarding the killings of the other four from hospital authorities. Medical Superintendent (MS) of SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Dr Saleem Tak, said that two youths succumbed to bullet injuries at SMHS. “I am not sure about the names but two youths succumbed here at the hospital,” Tak said.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Shopian, Dr Abdul Rasheed, and MS of Kulgam district hospital, Dr GM Bhat, confirmed that a youth each succumbed at their hospitals, to bullet injuries.
The CMO Shopian said that 85 injured persons were brought to SDH Shopian, of whom 60 were treated at the SDH and 25 referred to Srinagar hospitals. He said that among the injured, 12 had bullet injuries and 13 had pellet injuries. “All 12 with bullet injuries were shifted to Srinagar for specialised treatment,” he said. Giving further details, the CMO said that 20 injured were admitted to the health facility in DK Pora and 7 pellet injured were admitted to Zainapora SDH.
Doctors at the primary health centre (PHC) in DK Pora said that 21 injured persons were admitted, 5 wounded with bullets and 17 with pellets. One injured was brought dead. They said that all 5 bullet wounded and 3 among the pellet wounded were referred to Srinagar hospitals.
Doctors at SDH Zainapora said that two pellet injured were referred to Srinagar.
The MS of Kulgam district hospital confirmed admission of 5 injured – two with bullet wounds and 3 with pellet injuries, one of them injured in the eye.
The MS of Pulwama district hospital said that 4 persons were brought, one of them with a bullet injury in the head who succumbed on the way to Srinagar, and three pellet injured.
Local sources told Kashmir Reader that many others injured by pellets preferred to get treated locally, for fear of reprisal from police.
According to family sources, Saddam Paddar was active as a militant from 17 September 2014. He has left behind two younger sisters, a younger brother, and his parents.
Paddar was part of the “Burhan group” of 12 militants that appeared together in one photograph, of whom now only Zakir Musa and surrendered militant Tariq Pandit survive.
Police sources said that Paddar masterminded militant recruitment in south Kashmir areas. They said that Paddar was the district commander of Hizb for Shopian.
“He escaped from more than a dozen cordons but today was the day that Allah called him to heaven,” said a wailing protester near the funeral ground in Heff village. Paddar was buried along with fellow slain militant of Heff Sheermal, Bilal Ahmad Mohand, who according to a close relative was active since October 2016. Bilal was married and before joining militant ranks was working in the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department. The relative said that Bilal was tortured by government forces quite a few times and also put in jail under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). A police officer said that before joining militancy, Bilal was an over-ground worker (OGW) for Hizb militant Wasim Malla of Pehlipora, who was killed in April 2016. Bilal has left behind two little daughters, wife, younger brother, four sisters, and parents.
Fifteen rounds of funeral prayers were offered to both Paddar and Bilal by tens of thousands. Paddar’s father came on stage and told mourners that bodies of “both his sons” will be buried on Monday after 10am. He told them that lots of people were on their way towards Heff village to attend the funeral. As many as four militants twice offered gun salutes to Paddar and Bilal at Heff village.
The third militant killed in Badigam was Adil Ahmad Malik, son of Nazir Ahmad Malik, resident of Malikgund Shopian. Police said he was active since August 2014. He has left behind three brothers and two sisters. Family sources said that he was a close associate of slain Hizb militant Wasim Malla. Six rounds of funeral prayers were offered by thousands of mourners to Adil at Malikgund village, some eight kilometers from district headquarters. Three militants including Umar Malik of Malikgund appeared at the village and offered a gun salute to Adil.
Police identified the two other slain militants as Tauseef Ahmad Sheikh of Rampora, Quimoh, active since 2013, and Mohammad Rafi Bhat of Ganderbal, the assistant professor who police said “had recently joined them (Hizb militants)”.
On the reports of people setting fire to two fire and emergency vehicles in Shopian, SSP Shailendra Mishra said, “We brought fire vehicles to extinguish the fire because there were already allegations against us that we are not dousing the fire before leaving the encounter site. But the stone-pelters torched both the vehicles. Police party rushed towards the spot but the vehicles were all burned.”
The statement issued by the police in the evening said, “We once again reiterate that encounter sites are prohibitory zones and highly susceptible to cross firing so must be avoided by civilians.”
The statement said that the three men of special forces (SFs) injured including one policeman are under treatment at hospital.
Srinagar-based army spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia told Kashmir Reader that he will “ascertain the facts” of alleged army firing on civilians.