Captain among 3 soldiers killed in Sopore gunbattle
4 militants, including Basharat, believed dead but no official confirmation
AHMED ALI FAYYAZ
JAMMU, Feb 23: Three soldiers, including a Captain, today died in a fierce gunbattle with militants during a cordon-and-search operation in Sopore township in north Kashmir. Even as there was no official confirmation of the damage suffered by militants till late tonight, officials were almost certain that four of the holed up militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba, including the most wanted Basharat Saleem, had also got killed when troops destroyed two residential houses with IEDs and intense gunfire.
Informed sources in north Kashmir told Early Times that Special Operations Group (SOG) of Sopore Police, troops of 01 Special Force (Paras), RR 22 Bn and CRPF launched a joint operation immediately after receiving information regarding the presence of four top wanted militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba at the residential houses of Mohammad Ramzan Malla and Abdul Razaq Mall in Teli Mohalla of Chinkipora locality in the apple town of Sopore this afternoon. According to the tip off, top wanted local militants, Basharat Saleem and Muzafar Naikoo, were hiding in the locality alongwith their Pakistani associates, Salah-ud-din and Zubair.
As soon as Police and security forces succeeded in evacuating all the civilians from over two dozen houses and they zeroed in on the identified hideout, a group of the holed up militants lobbed hand grenades and opened intense gunfire, killing three soldiers. Reports said that five others sustained injuries in the gunbattle that was in progress well after the midnight. Those killed in the initial strike from the militants included Captain Devender Singh Jass, Naik P Salva Kumar and Sepoy Imtiyaz Ahmed Thokar of Karewa Manloo village of Shopian district. They were all reportedly from 01 Para. Sources said that the Captain killed in the gunbattle was a resident of Delhi.
Even as DIG North Kashmir, Abdul Qayoom Manhas, and other Police officials refused to say anything with regard to the casualties suffered by the militants ad they invariably maintained that the gunfight was “still underway”, other well placed sources insisted that all four of the trapped militants were believed to have got killed when troops destroyed both of the targeted houses. They said that the death of dreaded militant, Basharat Saleem Sheikh, was certain. “Basharat has escaped from a number of operations in the past. We had information regarding the presence of two dreaded militants, included Basharat Saleem. But, nothing could be said with regard to the casualties suffered by the militants”, DIG Abdul Qayoom Manhas said. He was confident that none of the trapped militants could escape because of the continuous surveillance of troops on the site of encounter.
DIG Manhas said that final search of the standing as well as the destroyed structures would be conducted in the morning tomorrow.
Breaking a two-year pause of peace and tranquility, Sopore has yet again emerged as the top flashpoint of guerrilla strikes besides attacks on identified hard and soft targets in the last few months. While the secessionist militants have eliminated a number of their soft targets and soldiers of Army, CRPF and J&K Police in a host of strikes in the last three months in Sopore area, security forces have killed only a few of the militants calling the shots in broad daylight.
Providing support to the militants, estimated to be around 25 in number, over a hundred youth have been organizing anti-India, anti-forces and anti-Government demonstrations in Sopore area since December last. Taking full advantage of the Government’s pressure against Police and security forces, these people are now openly roaming about in Tata Sumo vehicles and enforcing shutdown almost daily with heavy stone pelting on business establishments and the traffic in movement. Some of these youth yesterday dragged out passengers from a minibus, forced them to join a “demonstration of the stone pelters” and caused a melee in which an infant of 11 days fell from the lap of his mother and died.