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Monday, February 22, 2016

EDI gunfight toll reaches 6 including two captains

Part of building damaged in fire but no militant killed in 32 hours of ongoing encounter

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Feb 21: Even as Army lost three Special Forces soldiers, including two young captains, following the fatal casualty of two CRPF men and a civilian in the initial strike, the fierce encounter between a group of the holed up militants and security forces was going on till midnight on Sunday at the State-run Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), near Sempora Pampore, on the outskirts of Srinagar, on Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

Thirteen CRPF personnel, including an Assistant Commandant, had also sustained injuries in the beginning of the encounter on Saturday.

A senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir Police, who supervised the operation at EDI Complex along with senior Army and CRPF officers since it started on Saturday, told STATE TIMES that none of the holed up militants “seemed to be dead” in the 32 hours of the gunfight. “Until now, no militant’s body has been spotted or recovered. We have cleared around 90% of the building and zeroed in on the holed up militants in the remaining 10% of the space on the last floor. We are in the thick of the final assault and sure that all of them will be eliminated. They have no chance to escape”, he said.

The officer said that a portion of the building caught fire during the encounter as the militants fired from AK-47 rifles and lobbed around 20 hand grenades. However, it was extinguished successfully in three or four hours. Special Forces (paratroopers) flown in from Kupwara led the operation while as Police and CRPF provided back up support.

As exclusively reported in Sunday’s issue of STATE TIMES, Special Forces commandos had stormed the EDI headquarters at around midnight on Saturday. In the wee hours on Sunday, Captain Pawan Kumar (23), who was a resident of Jind, Haryana, got critically injured. Later, he succumbed to injuries at Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar. Lance Naik Om Prakash (32) of Shimla and Captain Tushar Mahajan (26) of Adarsh Colony Udhampur died in the encounter on Sunday. Officials said that their bodies would be despatched to their respective residential places after the wreath-laying ceremony at headquarters of 15 Corps in Srinagar on Monday.

Sources associated with the operation said that the militants, believed to be three to four in number, did not fire or retaliate after 9.10 pm on Sunday. It was an indication that they had decided to prolong the fighting as much as possible. “They can be exhausted or even dead but we have, as of now, no means to ascertain that”, said an officer. He said that the forces also used an unmanned aerial vehicle for flying close to the roof the building and taking pictures of its interior. But, there was little success as the militants fired on the flying machine from some pigeon holes.

According to these sources, a computer laboratory on the left portion of the top floor gutted in the fire even as a state-of-the-art conference hall on the right portion was intact till midnight. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and former Union Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Jairam Ramesh had attended a number of conferences and meetings in the hall which also remained venue for review meetings of District Development Board Pulwama. The EDI complex, falling in Pulwama district, is situated exactly on the border of Srinagar and Pulwama districts.

On December 8, 2015, two LeT militants had died at Sempora Crossing, just 200 yards short of EDI complex, in an encounter with Police and security forces during the checking of vehicles.

Sources said that the holed up militants, who include at least one Kashmiri speaking youth, possibly from Pulwama district, made some calls from the cellphones they seized from six EDI employees. A number of telephones are understood to have been put on surveillance to learn about the militants’ contacts and their whereabouts. The employees who spoke to media claimed that the militants asked them to clear out the building before the troops would start firing. They said that Police and CRPF evacuated them successfully even as one civilian, Abdul Gani Mir, who was a temporarily engaged gardener with EDI, died when militants fired from the canteen in the attic.


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