Former SPO, brother of serving policeman among slain militants; pellet injuries to eyes during clashes in Budgam
Suhail A Shah/Ishfaq Reshi
Anantnag/Budgam: An army soldier and three militants, one of them a former policeman and another the brother of a serving policeman, were killed in two separate gunfights in Budgam and Anantnag districts on Thursday. Two army soldiers were also wounded during the early morning gunfight that broke out in Gazigund village of Dooru in Anantnag district, where the army soldier and a Lashkar-e-Toiba militant were killed.
Asif Malik, the slain Lashkar militant, was an engineer with a BTech degree. He was a resident of Khag area in Verinag in Anantnag district.
Asif had joined militant ranks in September 2017. His elder brother, Ishfaq Malik, serves in the Jammu and Kashmir Police as a selection grade constable.
“There were specific inputs regarding presence of militants in the area, following which a cordon and search operation was launched,” a senior police officer in Anantnag told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the militants hiding in a residential house sensed trouble and fired indiscriminately at the forces, resulting in injuries to three army soldiers.
“One of the army men, Happy Singh of 19 RR, succumbed to his injuries later. Two others are being treated,” the police officer said.
Meanwhile, he said, the retaliation of fire from the government forces resulted in the killing of a local militant.
Though there was no official confirmation, sources in the police said that another militant, believed to be a most wanted one, gave the slip to forces from the site of the encounter and escaped unharmed.
There were, however, no clashes at the site of the encounter.
The body of Asif Malik was handed over to his family later in the day. At the funeral prayers thousands of people were in attendance, raising pro-freedom, anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans.
Asif was buried at the local martyr’s graveyard following a gun salute by fellow militants.
The authorities meanwhile snapped mobile internet services in entire Anantnag district soon after the encounter started. In Pulwama and Shopian districts, mobile internet is already suspended, for more than four days. The internet services in Shopian and Pulwama districts were snapped to curb circulation of videos through which policemen were announcing their resignations, following killings of three policemen in Shopian district by militants.
In Panzan village of Budgam district, two Hizbul Mujahideen militants, one of them a local and the other from Pulwama district, were killed by government forces in a fierce gunfight that the militants engaged in from a newly constructed mosque.
On Wednesday night, government forces launched search operations in Panzan village in Chadoora area of Budgam district after receiving “intelligence inputs about presence of militants in the area”, police said.
“The searches turned into an encounter after the hiding militants fired upon the government forces,” police said.
“Two militants were killed in the encounter between militants and government forces,” the army said on Thursday.
A former Special Police Officer (SPO) was among the two militants killed during the gunfight.
Police in a statement identified the duo as Sheeraz Ahmad Bhat, resident of Kralwari Chadoora, and Irfan Ahmad Dar, resident of Kakapora Pulwama. “Both were affiliated with Hizb ul Mujahideen militant outfit,” the police said in their statement.
“Irfan Ahmad Dar was working as SPO and had deserted a couple of months ago,” the statement said.
Mohammad Amir, a local, told Kashmir Reader that on Wednesday night he was watching the cricket match between Bangladesh and Pakistan on TV when a friend called him at about 1am.
“He told me that our area had been cordoned off by government forces. I refused to believe it,” he said.
“Soon, I heard sounds outside our house. I told my father that someone was knocking on our gate, but my father asked me to concentrate on the match,” Amir said.
It was about 1:15am, he said, that army soldiers jumped over the wall of his house and started banging on doors and windowpanes.
“We were afraid but we had no option other than to open the door and let them in. The army took me along and asked me to go inside the mosque where the militants had taken shelter,” Amir said.
The mosque is just a few steps away from his house and is surrounded by a dense number of houses.
“At first I refused to go inside the mosque, but I was forced to do so. I stepped inside the mosque in a terrified state. One of the militants hiding there was a former SPO. He completely refused to listen to me. He told me, “have left (police) to fight oppression, not to give up before them’,” Amir said.
Another local youth, who identified him as Ahmad Ali, said that the government forces sent many people, including the local Auqaf committee members, inside the mosque to urge the militants to surrender. But the militants flatly refused to do so.
It was about 4am when the first gunfire was heard. It was followed by indiscriminate firing from both sides, locals said.
“The forces claim to have exercised maximum restraint to maintain the sanctity of the place of worship, but you can see how the mosque has been damaged,” locals said, pointing to the bullet holes on the mosque.
“The government forces now don’t even spare places of worship in Kashmir. They have damaged the mosque from top to bottom, left to right, back to front. Where is the sanctity?” asked an angry local, Shabir Bhat.
The gunfight continued for the whole day and ended with the killing of both the holed-up militants at about 3pm.
Once the encounter was over, people in thousands thronged the area and chanted pro-freedom slogans in the lawn of the mosque.
While the gunfight was on, local mosques in adjoining localities played from loudspeakers songs eulogising militants, and shouted pro-freedom slogans. Hundreds of youths tried to rescue the militants during the gunfight by hurling stones on government forces. The forces retaliated with pellet firing and teargas shelling, resulting in injuries to more than 20 youths, locals said.
Many of the injured were hit by pellets in their eyes. They were taken to Sub-District Hospital (SDH) Chadoora and District Hospital Budgam. According to Medical Superintendent District Hospital Budgam, Dr Deeba four youths who were hit by pellets in eyes were referred to Srinagar hospitals for specialised treatment.
Block Medical Officer Chadoora Dr Dilawar said they recieved 22 injured including CRPF soldier.
A spontaneous shutdown was observed in Budgam to protest the killings. Government authorities suspended internet services in the entire district throughout the day.