Encounter in the town after 14 years
Suhail A Shah
Anantnag: Two Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants, one of them from Doda in Chenab valley region of J&K, were killed on Wednesday in a gunfight with government forces here in main town Anantnag.
Today’s gunfight was the first in main town Anantnag after about a gap of fourteen years. The last one was a shootout in 2004, wherein a Pakistani militant named Babar was killed in Malaknag area of the town.
The slain militants have been identified as Binyan Yousuf Dar alias Bilal Molvi, a resident of Khodweni area in Kulgam district, and Abid Hussain Bhat, son of Wali Bhat, a resident of Suzan village in Doda district.
Molvi worked as a driver before he joined militant ranks in July last year. Bhat is the first militant from Chenab valley region to have been killed in Kashmir in recent years.
There were many militants from Doda district in the 1990s but the post-2010 phase of militancy has mostly been Kashmir-centric. Bhat worked as a labourer and had left home on June 30 on pretext of finding work in a nearby area.
The gunfight today erupted at about 4:30 in the morning, several hours after a cordon and search operation was launched in the densely populated Lal Chowk area of Anantnag town.
“The cordon was launched at about midnight and searches were conducted in the area for several hours before the militants could be tracked to a residential house in Mehman Mohalla locality of Lal Chowk,” a police official told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the militants opened fire as the forces were zeroing in on the house they were hiding in. The gunfight was declared over after about 6 hours, with the killing of two militants.
“Both militants have been killed and arms and ammunition have been retrieved from the site of the encounter,” the police official said.
Unlike what they usually do during encounters, government forces did not set ablaze the house the militants were holed up in. It could be due to the area being densely populated, with other houses in close proximity.
Drone cameras were also used during the encounter to pinpoint the location of the militants.
The government forces had sealed off all entry and exit points of Anantnag town, particularly the Lal Chowk area, where the gunfight was taking place.
A photojournalist, Sheikh Masooq, told Kashmir Reader, “I live in the vicinity of the gunfight site. Even I was not allowed to move towards the site of the encounter. I still have not been able to venture out of home.”
People were not being allowed to venture towards the site of the encounter – in many parts of the town, not even out of their homes – when this report was filed in the evening.
Other sources in the town said that government forces resorted to aerial firing wherever they sensed that youth were trying to assemble – across the town. Mobile internet services were also snapped as soon as the gunfight began.
Despite such restrictions, clashes erupted in several parts of the town, including in Kadipora, Laizbal and Chee. In Chee, a policeman was injured after a stone hurled at him hit him in the head. He was rushed to Anantnag district hospital.
“He is stable,” a doctor at the hospital told Kashmir Reader.
Later in the day, Molvi’s body was handed over to his family in Ghaat locality of Khodweni in neighbouring Kulgam district, where thousands were waiting to attend his funeral.
Local sources said that several rounds of funeral prayers were held for the slain before he was buried amid pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans.
Militants, two to three in number, also appeared at the funeral and offered multiple rounds of gun salute to Molvi.
After the funeral, clashes erupted between forces and local youth near the SKUAST campus in Khodweni. Sources said that government forces used pellets to disperse the stone-throwing youth, leaving at least five of them injured.
“We have received 5 pellet injured. They are all stable,” a doctor at Anantnag district hospital told Kashmir Reader.
The body of the militant from Doda, was still in police custody when this report was filed.
“His family has been called and they are on the way,” a police official said, adding that the body will be handed over to them.