‘Row of houses’ burnt to ashes, IGP and GoC Victor Force conducted ‘aerial monitoring’ of operation
Shopian: In one of the longest encounters in Kashmir’s insurgency history, government forces on Monday killed top Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) commander Sajad Afghani at his native village of Rawalpora in Shopian district, a day after a local militant was killed in the operation. Six residential houses and household property worth crores was reduced to ashes during the encounter and locals said that “a row of houses” has disappeared within 48 hours after contact with militants was established.
Locals blamed government forces for destroying their houses, though police in a statement on Sunday had said that three houses had “caught fire during the operation”.
“It doesn’t resemble my village, my locality. I don’t see anything except ashes,” said a local whose house was destroyed in this encounter.
Under the large domes of a big Rawalpora mosque, an entire locality seems to have disappeared. The domes of the mosque have turned black from the smoke which billowed out of the houses which according to witnesses were set ablaze by government forces.
In 2019, six houses were razed to ground at Gadpora, a neighbouring village of Rawalpora, during an encounter in which three militants were killed. Rawalpora is considered as an economically well-off area surrounded with fertile horticulture land where most people have raised modern-type houses.
The first contact with militants, according to police, was established on Saturday evening after 24 hours of cordon and search operation. A local militant was killed on Sunday morning. After the killing of first militant, top JeM commander Sajad Afghani who is a native of Rawalpora was killed on Monday morning while searches continued till 6pm in the evening. A local said that firing was heard around 4pm for around half an hour.
A local resident said that he saw government forces bringing an oil tanker, which according to him was used to set on fire the residential houses. “They at least used one tanker load of oil to burn the houses around the suspected spot,” he said.
Protests and street clashes continued for the second consecutive day with protesters throwing stones at the government forces, who retaliated with tear smoke shells, stun grenades, pepper smoke and pellets, though there were no official reports of any injured brought to a hospital.
Locals said that drone cameras were also pressed into service to locate the militants. They said that on Monday at around 5pm, a helicopter was also seen over the village which disappeared after doing many rounds.
Family sources of Sajad Afhgani said that after matriculation, he took part in the family business and horticulture activities along with his two elder brothers and father.
The first slain militant in this encounter was identified as Jahangir Ahmad of Rakh Narapora village of Shopian.
Mobile Internet services continue to remain suspended in the whole district since Saturday night when contact with militants was established.
Repeated attempts of phone calls to reach Shopian’s Senior Superintendent of Police Amrit Pal Singh proved futile.
A young boy from the village who said he was forcibly made to spend 70 hours with the government forces told Kashmir Reader that he along with many others villagers were used to search all the houses in and around the encounter site. “They repeatedly sent us to the houses for search even after the exchange of fire and gave us cameras which they were operating from outside,” he said, adding that he was once allowed to go home but was again taken for searches by the forces.
Sajad Afghani (Wilayat Ahmad) according to locals was active with JeM outfit since September 11, 2018.
Family sources said that he belonged to a well-off family that owns dozens of kanals of land which fetch them over three-thousand apple boxes every season.
Locals said that Afghani was brave since his teenage years and one of the most honest young boys in the area.
Police issued a statement in the evening which said that the encounter resumed in the wee hours after remaining suspended for the night.
“As the search operation was resumed, contact with the holed up militants was again established and during the ensuing encounter one more militant was killed and his body was retrieved from the site of encounter. He has been identified as top JeM commander Vilayat Ahmad Lone alias Sajad Afghani resident of Shopian,” the statement said.
“As per police records, the killed militant was active since 08/09/2018 and was part of a group involved in executing a series of attacks on policemen, SF and civilians. He was also involved in attacks on security establishments and brutal killings of civilians branding them as police/SF informers.
“Several terror crime cases were registered against him and he was wanted by law for his complicity in several terror crime cases including Case FIR No. 304/2018 PS Shopian pertaining to terrorising the people so as to keep them away from Panchayat polls including blazing a Panchayat Ghar at Kanji-ullar. Case FIR No. 307/2018 PS Shopian pertaining to barging into the houses of police personnel, abducting and killing of SgCt Nisar Ahmad, Foll. Firdous Ahmad and SPO Kulwant Singh. Case FIR No. 343/2018 PS Shopian regarding attack on 34RR camp at Matribugh. Case FIR No. 362/2018 PS Shopian regarding abduction and killing of civilian Suhail Ahmad Ganai. Case FIR No. 35/2019 PS Shopian regarding killing of SPO Khusboo Jan and Case FIR No. 45/2019 PS Shopian regarding abduction and killing of civilian Tanveer Ahmad Dar,” it said.
“IGP Kashmir and GoC Victor Force conducted aerial monitoring of the operation and L&O situations at the encounter site. Both the officers have appreciated police and security forces for the big success and conducting operation successfully without any collateral damage,” the police statement said.
It added, “People are requested to cooperate with police till the area is completely sanitized and cleared of all the explosive materials, if any.”