Mayhem in Shopian village during 15-hour encounter

Mayhem in Shopian village during 15-hour encounter
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Ex-cop among 2 local militants slain, 51 civilians injured, one with bullet wound in neck; 6 houses destroyed, policeman hospitalised after head injury in stone-pelting

SHOPIAN: A 15-hour-long encounter in Shopian district’s Gadapora village ended on Friday with the killing of two local militants, injuries to 51 civilians and to a policeman, destruction of six houses, three cowsheds, and the burning to death of at least one cow. Locals said that two houses were set ablaze by government forces even after the encounter was over. They said that a local resident, who told government forces that he wanted to remove his car from the encounter site, was showered with pellets by the forces. Locals also said that two cars were smashed by government forces and the owner of one of them was left with multiple pellet injuries in his head and neck.

In an official statement, the police said that the slain militants had been identified as Showkat Ahmad of Harmain village and Yasir Ahmad Shah of Arhama village, both in Shopian district. Police said Yasir was missing from the last six days, while Showkat was a cop-turned-militant who had decamped with a rifle from Police Station Shopian last year.

Police also said that the slain militants were believed to be responsible for the killing of woman special police officer (SPO) Khushboo Jan in Shopian last week.

The counter-insurgency operation, according to police sources, was launched at about 2:30am in the intervening night of March 21 and 22. A joint team of government forces including army, police and paramilitary CRPF launched a cordon and search operation at Gadapora village and a search party was fired upon by hiding militants, triggering a gunfight.

Police sources said that after the exchange of fire in the night, there prevailed a lull till the morning, when heavy exchange of gunfire took place. The army later said that a militant was killed but the operation was still underway.

Soon after the news of the gunfight spread in the area, scores of youth hit the streets and started pelting government forces with stones. During the ensuing clashes, as many as 51 civilians sustained pellet and bullet injuries. Among the injured persons, 35 with pellet injuries were brought to Vehil hospital, 10 with pellet injuries were brought to PHC (primary health centre) Harmain, and 6 were brought to District Hospital (DH) Shopian. Doctors said that among the injured persons seven, including one with a bullet wound to his neck, were referred to Srinagar hospitals for specialised treatment.

Doctors identified the bullet-injured youth as Saboor Ahmad, resident of Kundalan village in Shopian district.

Two bodies of militants were retrieved from the encounter site and were taken away by government forces. Police said that arms and ammunition was recovered from the site of the encounter.

Besides the 51 injured civilians, a policeman was also injured in stone-pelting near the encounter site. Police sources said that the cop was hit by a stone on the head and was sifted to army’s 92 Base hospital in Badami Bagh Srinagar. A police officer said that the injured cop was deployed to contain stone-pelting where he sustained a head injury from a stone.

Locals in Gadapora village said they were besieged for 15 hours with no food and access to even the washroom.

A lady living near the gunfight site said that she along with her minor children was stranded in a house for 15 in terror and darkness. “I don’t know anything. Thank God we survived but it was doomsday with firing all around and no one to help us,” said the lady, a mother of two children, who lives just beside the encounter site.

The people whose houses were destroyed in the encounter said that government forces destroyed two houses after the end of the gunfight.

“”We begged for help but all they did was destroy everything. Dozens of us have been left homeless,” one of them said.

Another lady said that they were asked for tea by the government forces, which they were provided. “We were so terrified that we put everything eatable before them. We were crying for the safety of our family members,” she said.

Locals said that many people were taken for searches but they later returned safe. “They took us along to search the houses and we were with them till the end of the gunfight,” a local who accompanied the government forces said.

People whose houses and cowsheds were destroyed in the encounter were seen crying at the loss of their property. “All our cattle and sheep were charred under the debris of the burning house. We don’t know how many of them died but we saw a cow running with its back on fire,” a local woman said.

A group of locals said that they can’t estimate the losses they have suffered in the encounter. “It is worth crores. These houses were made after hard work of two generations,” they said.

Locals informed that of the destroyed houses, three belong to Abdul Razaq Thoker, two to Abdul Rehman Bhat, and one to Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh. They said that three destroyed cowsheds also belong to these families.

Besides the destroyed houses, many houses suffered partial damage during the encounter. The roof of one of the nearby houses was completely damaged.

Police in their statement said that, “Based on credible inputs about the presence of terrorists in Gadapora area of south Kashmir’s Shopian district, a cordon and search operation was launched by police and security forces in the area.

“As the searches were going on, the hiding terrorists fired on the search party. The fire was retaliated leading to an encounter. In the ensuing encounter, 2 terrorists were killed and the bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter. Their identities and affiliations are being ascertained. Prima facie this group was believed to be responsible for the killing of lady police official Khushboo Jan earlier this week in Shopian.

“In the nearby area, one police official identified as Tariq Ahmad was injured in stone pelting and is undergoing treatment at hospital. Besides, 3 individuals also sustained injuries. They have been hospitalised for the treatment of their injuries and are stated to be stable.

“Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter.”