Shock, grief in south Kashmir as two teenagers among 5 militants killed

Tried every way possible to make them surrender, says police officer in Shopian; in Bijbehara, Lashkar militants slain after blowing up residential house

Shopian/ Anantnag: Three militants, two of them teenagers, were killed in Shopian’s Chitragam Kalan village in a military operation that began Saturday afternoon, while two militants, who police said were involved in the murder of Territorial Army soldier Saleem Akhoon on April 9, were killed on the outskirts of Bijbehara town on Sunday morning.
People in Chitragam Kalan, a village of about 1,500 households, were shocked at the killings of local teenagers, 14-year-old Faisal Gular and 17-year-old Asif Ganaie, both of whom belonged to Chitragam Kalan village, situated some 15 kilometres from district headquarters Shopian.
A third militant, not yet identified, was killed along with the two teenagers in a 15-hour-long gunfight that took place in an orchard area in the village.
Local sources said that Asif, who had joined militancy some nine months ago, had given the slip to government forces many times before, including escaping cordons laid around his own village, but this time the information given to the government forces was ‘pin-point’.
On Friday evening, a joint team of government forces had launched a cordon and search operation in Chitragam village which concluded next morning without any militants found. Locals said that the cordon was launched to force the militants to leave the village and get trapped in an open space, which was what happened later in the day.
“He was young, but he was a master at breaking cordons. He was the first militant from his extended family,” said one of the relatives of Asif.
Faisal Gulzar, according to his father, left home at around 11am last Tuesday, to take a bath at a local mosque. “We didn’t eat anything but started searching for him here and there since his phone was switched off. We went to police and army, who assured us that they will try their best to save him even in the encounter,” said Ghulam Hassan, the 85-year-old grandfather of Faisal.
A day after Faisal went missing, his family circulated a video through local media houses to persuade their son to return home ‘for the sake of his four sisters’, of whom he was the lone brother.
“We were not aware of his whereabouts until he called his father, who was on the way to the police station, to tell him that he was trapped in the encounter,” the 85-year-old Ganie said.
“He was tall but a child. Rachan aesin, kuni oos na. We fed him more, as he was the lone son,” Ganie fumbled as he spoke, while tears rolled down his wrinkled face.
Locals said that Faisal was among the most pious boys of the village. “He had never raised his eyes before me, never even talked to me; such was his piousness. He never went outside for anything except to offer prayers five times a day in the mosque. He occasionally played cricket and regularly went to his school,” said Abdul Razaq, 70, Faisal’s grandfather in his extended family.
Faisal has left behind four sisters, two younger than him and two elder, besides his mother, father, and grandparents.
At least two rounds of funeral prayers, in absentia, were held in the village by locals and people who arrived from many villages of Shopian and Kulgam districts.
A senior police officer said that they halted the operation for the entire night to persuade Faisal to surrender, but there was no response from the militants.
“We tried every possible way, even brought their families who sobbed and cried while pleading with them (via loudspeakers) to surrender. The army also offered them generous terms of surrender but there was no response during all the ten hours,” the police officer said.
Asif Basheer Ganie, 17, the second slain militant, had joined militant ranks nine months ago, according to family sources. He has left behind two brothers, a sister, and his parents.
Asif, according to locals, was studying in Class 10 when he joined militant ranks. They said that he was brave and had escaped dozens of times from cordons laid by government forces.
In Bijbehara area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, allegedly involved in the killing of an Ikhwani turned Territorial Army soldier, were killed in a gunfight with government forces on Sunday morning, police said.
The slain militants were identified as Tawseef Ahmad Bhat, son of Muhammad Ramzan, resident of Takia Maqbool Shah village on the outskirts of Bijbehara town, and Amir Hussain Ganai, son of Abdul Rasheed, a resident of Goriwn locality in main town Bijbehara.
Bhat was an active militant since 2017 while Amir had joined in 2018. Amir had a small readymade garments business near his home in Goriwan area, before he joined the militant outfit.
Both the militants, the police said, were involved in the killing of Ikhwani turned Territorial Army Hawaldar Saleem Akhoon on April 9. Akhoon was on leave at home when he was shot at and killed by unidentified gunmen, less than 200 metres from where Amir lived
“They were wanted in other cases as well, including an attack in which a CRPF man was killed,” a police officer told Kashmir Reader.
The gunfight took place in Semthan village, on the periphery of main town Bijbehara. The cordon and search operation was launched at about 5pm Saturday evening and after a brief exchange of fire, the guns fell silent on both sides.
“The gunfight resumed this morning after all civilians holed up in the area were secured and the militants were given a chance to surrender,” the police officer said. “They turned down the offer and fired indiscriminately, instead. The fire was retaliated to and both of them were killed.”
He said that the bodies of the militants have been retrieved, along with two AK-47 rifles, ammunition, and some other incriminating material. “Their bodies will be taken to Handwara for last rites, after completion of medico-legal formalities. Their close family members will be allowed to be present at the last rites,” the officer said.
Local sources told Kashmir Reader that the house in which the militants were holed up has suffered massive damage as forces used explosives to kill the militants. “Hundreds of people reached the site of the gunfight soon after the forces were withdrawn from the area,” a local source told Kashmir Reader.
Meanwhile, amid an internet shutdown in Anantnag district, a complete shutdown was observed in Bijbehara town and its outskirts. People had started visiting Amir’s house since early morning and kept trickling in throughout the day.
All shops in Bijbehara town remained shut while government forces did not allow any traffic movement on the stretch of the old national highway passing through Bijbehara.

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