Perfume factory blasted; thousands attend funeral of local militant in Brass village, hurl stones on govt forces
ZOOGU-BUDGAM: Two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants were killed in a pre-dawn gun battle at a perfume manufacturing factory, which was blasted by explosives, located in Malwanche forests in Zoogu village of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, in the wee hours of Thursday.
Charred bodies of the duo were recovered from the debris of the mangled factory and were later identified as those of Mukhtar Ahmad Bhat, resident of Brass Arizal, and Mohammad Amin Mir, resident of Drangbal Pampore.
Budgam Superintendent of Police Tijinder Singh said that the two militants were killed after a team of army’s 53RR and SOG of police launched a cordon and search operation in the forest area of Zoogu after “inputs about presence of militants in the area”.
In a statement, a police spokesman said that during the search operation in Malwanche forests, the hiding militants fired upon the government forces. A gun battle ensued in which an army officer sustained injuries and was evacuated to hospital for medical attention. “He is stated to be stable and is going under treatment,” the police statement said.
The gun battle ended at about 8am in the morning with the killing of both the militants, after government forces blasted the factory with explosives.
Mir Mushtaq, an elderly resident of Zoogu village, told Kashmir Reader, “It was midnight, we were quite asleep, when sounds of vehicles were heard from the nearby road. At first I neglected the noise and wrapped the blanket over my head and went to sleep, but then sounds of more vehicles passing on the roads were heard. I got worried and thought something unusual was going to happen.”
Mir said it was around 3am when the first gunshots were heard. Minutes after, the guns started roaring, he said, and didn’t even stop for a minute.
Malwanche is a forest area situated between the Tosamaidan tourist resort and Arizal town, on the hillock of the Zoogu-Kharian village. On top of the hillock is a perfume manufacturing factory – a few machines worth lakhs surrounded by run sheets, where now only some mangled tin sheets are visible.
The factory had been closed since the month of September with the end of the flowering season in Kashmir, Ghulam Mohammad said.
The encounter started in the lawn of this factory in an open field, locals said.
Another resident of the village, Shabir Khan, said that from 3am the firing continued from both sides and ended at about 8am in the morning. “The forces used several blasts and gunpowder to set ablaze the factory in which the militants were trapped,” Shabir said.
Following the encounter, police advised people of the area to not visit the encounter site as the area can prove dangerous due to stray explosive materials.
“People are requested to cooperate with police till the area is completely sanitised and cleared of all the explosives materials if any,” police said in a statement.
Soon after dawn, people had started assembling near the main bridge in the village and tried to reach the encounter site to help the militants, but they were intercepted by government forces.
The people hurled stones at the government forces, and clashes ensued. The forces fired teargas shells to disperse the protestors, eyewitnesses said.
Police said that both the killed militants were affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
After the bodies of the militants were recovered from the debris, they were taken to the nearby 53 Rashtriya Rifles camp located at Raiyar, from where they were handed over to their families.
Police said that both the militants were involved in a series of attacks on security establishments and also in several “civilian atrocities”.
“Mukhtar was involved in case FIR No 37/2018 under Section 307 RPC, 7/27 Arms Act, 16/18 ULAP Act dated 25.03.2018 in Budgam, while Mohd Amin was involved in case FIR No 75/2018 under Section 18/20/30 ULAP Act at PS Pampore,” the police statement read.
The 25-year-old Mukhtar Ahmad Bhat, who had joined militancy three years ago, was laid to rest at a local graveyard in Brass village in Budgam district, amid pro-freedom and pro-Islam slogans.
Eyewitnesses said that soon after the news of his killing spread, thousands of people turned up at his funeral.
Multiple rounds of funeral prayers were held to accommodate the people who had come from different areas of Kashmir valley to pay tributes to Mukhtar, locals said.
“He is our hero and we won’t forget his sacrifice. His bravery is an inspiration for all of us,” locals said.
Following the burial, clashes broke out between protesters and government forces in the area and continued throughout the day.
A spontaneous shutdown was observed in Beerwah, Arizal, Khna Sahab, Khag and many other areas of Budgam. Government authorities snapped mobile internet services soon after Wednesday midnight