Chatabal Encounter: The complete story

by Tahir Bhat

SRINAGAR: At 6 am, on May 5, 2018, acting on a specific information, police and CRPF laid a Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) in Gasi Mohalla area of Chattabal in Srinagar outskirts. After 30 minutes searches, gunshots were heard in the area, confirming the presence of militants. In official parlance, “the contact was established”.

Within no time heavy exchange of fire started between militants and government forces comprising police and the CRPF. In the initial exchange of fire, a CRPF officer sustained minor injuries.

People carry a body of slain civilian Adil Ahmad.
KL Image by Mukhtar Zahoor

As the gunfight intensified hundreds of boys took to streets and clashed with police near the encounter site.

Those living on the other side of Chattabal, across the Jhelum, in Noorbagh area, could hear an exchange of fire. “I was woken up by the sound of gunshots,” said Tabish, a Noorbagh resident. “Within no time, there were huge blasts. We took cover on the ground floor, as it seemed firing was taking place close-by.”

As the news of encounter spread, hundreds of youngsters took to streets in parts of Srinagar and clashed with police and CRPF. The most intense clashes were reported from near the encounter site in Chattabal.

By 10 am, the clashes had spread to areas in Noor Bagh locality, and other location in Srinagar. As the gunfight in Chattabal was on, a youth named Adil Ahmad Yatoo was crushed to death by a police vehicle.

Ladies mourners watching the funeral of slain militant Fayaz Hamal.
KL Image by Mukhtar Zahoor

At around 1:30 pm, police declared operation over and claimed to have killed all three militants, who were holed up in a residential house in Chattabal. The house belonged to Mohammad Hanief Kaloo. It suffered extensive damage in the encounter. Police said they had evacuated the inmates of the house to safe places before they started the operation.

“They had come to Srinagar from Bandipore and their entry into Srinagar was quote recent,” a police officer said.

However, the identity of the slain militants was not immediately confirmed. Later, one of the militants was identified by police as Fayaz Ahmad Hamal, a resident of Kahnqah-e-Mollah in downtown Srinagar, who joined Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in April 2017. Before joining militancy Fayaz was a stone-pelter, who was a regular at post-Friday prayers protests outside Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He was part of the group of stone-pelters which included Sajad Ahmad Gilkar, who was killed in Budgam, a few days after joining Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.

Ladies crying outside encounter site in Chatabal Srinagar.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

According to a police statement, before formally joining the group in April 2017, Fayaz was operating as an active accomplice of LeT. He was previously involved in case FIR no 83/2017 u/s 392 RPC, 7/25 IA Act, 30 Police Act of police station MR Gunj Srinagar.

Another militant was identified as top LeT commander Showkat Ahmad Tak son of Ghulam Hassan Tak, a resident of Panzgam Pulwama.

According to the official, Tak was active since last 7 years and was a close aide of Abu Qasim, Rehman Bhai and Abu Dujana of LeT.

The identity of the third militant killed with Fayaz and Showkat at Chattabal is yet to be established.Their bodies were quickly driven to the police mortuary. Police said after retaining their DNA samples, they would be driven to a cemetery later tonight.

The body of Fayaz was handed over to his family after it was first taken to PCR.

As the news of encounter spread, the markets in Srinagar including Lal Chowk, Karan Nagar, observed spontaneous shutdown. By noon, the traffic on busy MA Road and parts of the city was almost non-existent. Apart from scattered incidents of stone-pelting in downtown areas of Srinagar, the situation in rest of the city remained largely normal.

Fayaz’s Funeral

Once the body of Fayaz reached his home in Khanqah-e-Mollah, thousands of people from different parts of Srinagar city and its adjoining areas had already assembled there.

At 6:30 pm, Fayaz was finally taken to Eidghah, where his funeral prayers were held. He was buried in the martyr’s graveyard. His funeral prayers were joined by thousands of people. There were thousands of people in his funeral prayers.

Fayaz’s funeral took place after Adil’s funeral prayers. They both were laid to rest in Eidgah’s cemetery.

Police version

Perusing credible leads, Srinagar police along with CRPF launched a Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) in Chatabal area in the jurisdiction of Police Station Safakadal, Srinagar. While the searches were intensified, the hiding terrorists fired upon the joint search party. The fire was retaliated, ensuing an encounter. In the encounter, three terrorists were killed whose identifications are being ascertained. Incriminating materials including heavy arms and ammunition were recovered from the encounter site.

On the basis of the materials recovered from the site, it is found that the terrorists belonged to outlawed LeT. Further, in the said incident, no collateral damage has taken place.

Pertinently, the area was sealed to carry out further searches on cooling of rubbles, immediately after the encounter ended, to ensure no damage is caused by any explosive material left over at the encounter site.

A case into the incident has been registered and investigations were taken up.

In the evening Shesh Paul Vaid, Director General of Police, took to the twitter and said: Encounter concluded in Chattabal Srinagar. Three bodies of terrorists recovered in a clean operation by J&K Police & CRPF. Well done boys.

In a separate statement, sent in the evening, police said: “On the basis of materials recovered it is assessed that this group was intending to carry out some major terror attack.”

Police also claimed to have recovered AK 47 rifles, magazines, UBGL grenades, wire cutter, medical kit and matrix sheets from the three killed militants.

How Adil Died?

Encounter part, what dominated the day was a small video clip that had gone viral. It showed a security vehicle overrunning a protester.

Details revealed that at 10 am, outside Noorbagh Chowk, protests were going on near Tehsil office when a few youth chased police vehicles with stones. In a short video clip, which is now viral on social media sites, Adil is seen running towards a police vehicle, when another police mini-truck suddenly picks pace and crushes him to death. The vehicle, after mowing Adil down speeds away, while youngsters rush to help the victim. Aadil was immediately rushed to SMHS hospital in Srinagar, where a number of boys had assembled. According to media reports, Adil was declared brought dead by the hospital authorities. Within no time police vehicles arrived at the hospital and took custody of Adil’s body, which resulted in clashes. The ensuing clashes left three photojournalists injured.

Forces carry ammunition during encounter.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

CRPF PRO told Kashmir Life that the vehicle that crushed the stone pelter belonged to police and not to CRPF. He said four CRPF personnel were injured in the encounter while several of its members were injured in stone pelting.

In a statement carried by news agency CNS, Syam Prakash Pani, IG police, was quoted saying that action will be taken against those responsible for Adil’s killing.  City Police Chief told Kashmir Life that they have registered a case about the accident and investigations will be carried out.

One media report said the cop who was driving the vehicle has been detained after a case was registered under Section 304 RPC.

Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq termed the killing of Adil Ahmad Yadoo, who was crushed to death by a police vehicle during clashes as “a murder”.

“How a murder was committed by the forces today and then brazenly denied! Is there no sense of humanity left in India?” Mirwaiz tweeted.

Mirwaiz also shared a video showing a forces vehicle crushing a protester.

Independent lawmaker Er Rasheed in a statement said “While the goons of Hindu Ekta Manch were free to stop the cavalcade of PHE Minister Sham Chowdhary and pelted stones at police and Minister’s cavalcade at Kootah Mode in Kathua, an innocent unarmed 18 year old youth Aadil Ahmad was crushed to death by a Vehicle of Jammu and Kashmir Police at Cement bridge in Noorbagh area of Srinagar.

In a press statement, Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party (JKDFP) expressed “shock and grief over the fresh killings by the men in uniform in Srinagar including the “murder” of civilian Adil Ahmad Yadoo”.

United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin paid rich tribute to Chatabal militants and civilian Adil and said that their sacrifices will show colour one day, according to local news-gatherer CNS.

Immediately after Adil’s killing Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik tried to address a press-conference but were stopped and detained. In the evening Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), called for the complete shutdown of Kashmir against Chattabal killings on Sunday. At 5 pm, Adil’s body was finally handed over to his family for last rites. Adil’s funeral was held at Eidgah, where thousands of mourners from different parts of Srinagar had assembled to bid him adieu.

Scribes Injured

While covering the incidents during the day, a few photo-journalists were injured. These included Farooq Javed Khan of EPA, Javed Dar of Xinhua News Agency and Omar Asif of Kashmir News Service. Some of them were taken to the hospital and sent home after first aid.

Breaking Srinagar’s Calm

The last major encounter that took place in Srinagar was on February 12, 2018, when two militants made a failed bid to attack a CRPF camp in Karan Nagar, and took shelter in a nearby building. The overnight encounter left one CRPF personnel and two LeT militant dead. This was one of the major strikes in Srinagar city in a long time. Once the encounter ended, Srinagar bounced back to normal including the areas near the encounter site in a day’s time.

Interestingly, Chattabal encounter took place two days before the government will start function from Srinagar after six-months stay in Jammu.

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