2 civilians killed in clash after militant’s death in Pulwama encounter
Curfew imposed, separatists put under house arrest, magisterial inquiry ordered
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz______
JAMMU, Feb 14: Two university students got killed and 46, including 25 civilians, injured when intense clashes broke out between the local population and the security forces during the course of an operation in which a Kashmiri militant of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba was shot dead at Lelhar-Kakapora in Pulwama district of southern Kashmir on Sunday.
Informed sources at the spot told STATE TIMES that troops of Rashtriya Rifles 50 Bn, CRPF and Pulwama District Police launched a joint operation after learning about the movement of a local group of Lashkar-eTayyiba militants at Astan Mohalla, Kakapora. As soon as the troops swooped down on the neighbourhood, four militants carrying AK-47 rifles were seen fleeing towards the adjacent Lelhar village. Troops chased them and engaged them in a gunfight.
An ‘A’ category local militant, namely Adil Ahmad Shergujri alias Abu Bakar alias Mohammad Ashraf of Banderpora was gunned down by the security forces. However, three of his accomplices managed to escape towards Lelhar. Even as the troops cordoned the village and started the search operation, large number of the residents, including a large number of the youths of different villages playing cricket at the local playground, gathered and began shouting slogans in favour of ‘Azadi’ and against what they called “Indian occupation”.
Thereafter, a fierce clash broke out between the demonstrators and the security forces. Eyewitnesses said that the protesters resorted to heavy stone pelting on the security forces who retaliated with automatic weapons and tearsmoke canisters. Around 25 civilians and 21 personnel of security forces and Police sustained injuries. Out of the civilians, at least 8 had gunshot wounds. Of them, 20-year-old Engineering student of Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora, Danish Farooq of Ratnipora, and 22-yearold M Ed student of IGNOU, Shayista D/o Abdul Hameed Bhat of Lelhar, succumbed to injuries at hospital.
Condition of another critically wounded civilian, Ghulam Mohiuddin of Kakapora, was stated to be precarious. Officials insisted that 14 civilians got injured while as two more civilians died. Of the civilians 14 were under treatment at SMHS Hospital and one at Bone & Joint Hospital in Srinagar. Reports from Pulwama, however, added that at least 10 of the civilians injured in the clash were treated at the local hospitals. Subsequently, tension prevailed in a vast locality and clashes took place between the demonstrators and the security forces at four more places in Pampore-Pulwama belt.
Funeral rites of the two civilians were performed amid anti-India and pro-Pakistan and pro-Azadi slogans at Lelhar and Ratnipora. Officials said that 4,000 to 5,000 people participated in each of the civilian’s funeral procession. They said that the slain militant would be buried in the forenoon on Monday.
“As search was going on, militants hiding in the house opened indiscriminate firing on security forces. The police started evacuating civilians trapped inside the cordon. A large number of people were evacuated but a lady namely Shaista while taking cover was hit by a bullet. She was evacuated to hospital where she was declared dead. Some more miscreants / stone pelters received bullet injuries in the cross fire”, said a press release issued from the J&K Police.
“A large number of people despite imposition of sec 144 Cr PC came near encounter site where militants were firing indiscriminately on security forces from inside. They were pelting stones on Security forces. One terrorist was killed in the encounter identified as Adil Ahmad Shergojri @ Abu Bakar s/o Mohd Ashraf Shergojri R/o Banderpora affiliated with LeT tanzeem (A category). Due to heavy stone pelting and ensuing law and order situation the security forces had to resort to tear smoke shelling. As a result of which some protesters received injuries. Due to heavy stone pelting two terrorists managed to escape. Six armymen received injuries two in head in the stone pelting. Apart from this 15 policemen also got injured in stone pelting. Case registered and investigation taken up”, it added.
While as the officials claimed that two militants managed to escape when the residents disrupted the operation, locals insisted that three militants escaped. They alleged that troops opened indiscriminate gunfire and fired teargas shells to break away the gathering.
An official spokesman said that Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama has ordered a magisterial inquiry to look into the circumstances that led to the civilian casualties including the death of the two university students.
Officials said that curfew would remain in force in the disturbed Pulwama-Pampore belt besides downtown Srinagar on Monday. DC Srinagar, Farooq Ahmad Lone, told STATE TIMES that restrictions under section 144 Cr PC (euphemism for curfew) would be enforced in areas falling under five Police Stations in downtown besides Maisuma in the uptown.
Almost all the separatist groups and leaders, including Yasin Malik of JKLF and both factions of the Hurriyat Conference called for a total shutdown in Kashmir on Monday in protest of the killing of the two civilians. They alleged that both the unarmed youths were killed in target firing by the troops.
After the death of a labourer Pervez Ahmad Gujri (after two militants of Hizbul Mujahideen, namely Riyaz Ahmad Naik and Lateef Dar, were killed in an encounter) at Naina Batpora (Pulwama) on January 20, this is the second mincident of the civilian fatalities in a counter-insurgency operation in the Valley during Governor’s rule.
Separatists under house arrest
Official sources said that all the prominent separatist leaders including JKLF chairman Yasin Malik, Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were placed under house arrest at their residences in Srinagar and other towns late on Sunday night in view of the mounting tension after the death of the two youths in Pulwama.
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti and NC President Omar Abdullah are among a number of the political leaders who condemned the death of the two civilians during the clashes after today’s encounter.
Mehbooba’s guarded condemnation
PDP President Mehbooba Mufti, who did not react on the death of a civilian in Naina Batpora on January 20, came out with a condemnation for today’s civilian casualties in the clash. However, she did not harshly level allegation of the human rights abuse, characteristic of her when PDP was not in power.
“She lamented that the unfortunate incident, which can be avoided, has claimed lives of two students, including a female one, and injured nearly a dozen civilians. In a statement issued here today Ms Mufti expressed her heartfelt condolences to the families, who lost their dear ones in the firing. She said that such incidents are uncalled for and security forces must observe restraint while dealing with civilians in such a situation. PDP president expressed her solidarity with the families of firing victims”, a PDP press release said.
A mild condemnation also poured in from National Conference.
Extending heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families on behalf of the party, NC Spokesperson Junaid Mattu said such heartbreaking incidents were “major setbacks to reconciliation and peace” and could add to the perception of alienation among the youth.
“This is a very tragic and heartbreaking incident. Honourable Governor should ensure the guilty are identified and brought to justice in a time bound manner. Our hearts go out to the families of the two deceased youth and we pray for the smooth and complete recovery of those who have sustained serious injuries in this incident” Mattu said in the statement.