Panzan mosque ravaged in gunfight for second time

Panzan mosque ravaged in gunfight for second time
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After a gunfight in 2002 battered the mosque, the residents had toiled for years to build a grand mosque

Budgam: The residents of Panzan village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district are once again gearing up to rebuild the Jamia Masjid of the area that was badly damaged in a gunfight between militants and government forces last week.
It is the second time the mosque has been devastated in a gunfight, first in 2002, when the residents had had to raze the entire structure and build a new one.
On Thursday two local militants, Sheraz Ahmad Khan, a resident of Krelwari and Irfan Ahmad Dar, a Special Police Officer (SPO) turned militant from Nehama Pulwama, were killed in a gunfight with government forces at the mosque. The mosque suffered extensive damage in the incident.
“For now we are just looking for the mop-up and cleaning process of the mosque and in future we will again start its reconstruction work,” a local resident said.
“We have been offering prayers in first floor after two days of encounter and are cleaning the rest of the floors, washrooms and other areas, clearing the broken scattered glasses pieces, broken tin sheets, half burnt wooden logs and other materials,” he said.
Panzan Jamia Masjid Auqaf Committee chairman Ghulam Rasool Dar said three of the four storeys of the mosque suffered extensive damage in the gunfight, and remarked that the fate has decided “its itinerary for us again”.
On 27 October 2002 when militancy was on its peak, a foreign militant was killed inside the mosque during a long drawn gunfight.
“That encounter (2002) started in mid-day and continued for almost three days. In those days the technology was not much advanced neither was the weaponry,” Rasool said.
“This old mosque was on same basement and was concrete; however, the floor and the ceilings were made in wood,” he recalled. “Everything destroyed in that encounter, even the bricks and the stones didn’t remain unturned”.
Rasood said that after the 2002 incident, it took them three years to “dismantle the remnants and after that we rebuilt the mosque by our blood”.
“With full determination we built a concrete mosque that can accommodate almost 3,000 worshippers at a time,” he added.
Another local committee member, Gulzar Ahmad Dar described the latest incident as “another test by Allah” for them.
“After working day and night for 16 years, we were at least satisfied that we could reconstruct the damaged mosque without any support from any agency worth 4-5 crores. But today, Allah has put us in another test,” Gulzar said. “That time the mosque had been razed to ashes, this time I can say, even though the mosque is standing but has technically been ruined.”
He said the ground floor, washrooms, hammam, the upper storeys have suffered extensive damage, as the militants were hiding in the upper storeys.
Chairman, Rasool said the government forces cordoned off the area on Wednesday evening and around midnight (1am) he was summoned to offer “surrender” to militants.
“I entered the mosque and searched in the first and second floor but I could not find the militants. They were hiding in third and fourth floor where lights have not been installed yet,” Rasool added.
“I addressed the militants loudly. There was no response at all. I returned, and few minutes later the gunfight started. Not much was done to persuade the militants to surrender. The forces’ rained number of mortars on the mosque to kill the hiding militants,” Rasool said.
The army in their statement said that they exercised maximum restraint keeping in view the sanctity of the place of worship.
Rasool added that after the bodies of the militants were recovered, the forces kept them in the street outside and carried out a search inside the mosque.
“But when noting was found, they (forces) again barged inside the mosque and fired bullets, mortars indiscriminately and damaged the mosque to a great extent.”
Rasool added that engineers have estimated the approximate damage to mosque at around Rs 50-60 lakh.
“They said that the four towers (minars) have dislocated from their original place and can prove dangerous during fast winds and earthquakes,” Rasool said.