Chowgam Encounter: The Complete Story

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SRINAGAR: In one of the major encounters in Kulgam district, the state police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) led a mixed contingent of 9-Rashtriya Rifles and the CRPF killed five militants. The slain included a topHizb ul Mujahideen militant Gulzar Ahmad Padder, who was a key rebel in the area.

A massive gathering of mourners during a funeral procession of civilian Rouf Ahmed Ganai in Anchidora Islamabad Rouf was shot at near the encounter site in Chowgam Kulgam on September 15, KL photo by Shah Hilal

After the encounter was over, army men allegedly owned fire on an alleged stone-pelting mob that killed a young civilian and left five others injured.

Police said they have “very specific” information about the presence of militants in the Chowgam Herpora village, which is located near Qazigund. “We knew things so we planned the operation in such a way that there was no possibility of any major tension.”

The cordon was laid at around 11:30 pm. It took the police some time to locate the exiting house where the militants were hiding. The house belonged to Manzoor Ahmad Ganai, who is a former soldier.

“Our immediate crisis was that there were four men and two women who were in the house and the priority’s to get them out of harm. It took some time,” one officer said. “Using a civilians cell phone, a senior officer talked to Faisal, one of the five militants, and asked him to come out and get arrested.”

Remains of a residential house were five militants were killed during an encounter on September 15, 2018. KL photo by Bilal Bahadur

The officer talked to one of the militants, most probably Faisal, for some time. But, police said, they spurned the offer. “They insisted they have joined militancy to fight and they will not give up the arms,” police sources said.

Past midnight the contact was established. But the real brief gun battle took place during wee hours. “Two army men were injured in the initial round of firing,” one police official said. “In the immediate reaction, one of the militants tried to come out of the house and was hit by a bullet and died.”

Thereafter, the counterinsurgency personnel laid one IED in the house of the former army man and it crumbled down. Police believed at least two of the remaining militants were killed in the blast. Since there was no response from the militant side, the police mistook that all the militants were killed.

But what had happened was that while two militants were killed in the blast, the two surviving one had got into a neighbor’s home. It belonged to Abdul Aziz Wagay.

Army group of troopers running towards the encounter site in Chowgam Kulgam on Septemeber 15, KL photo by Bilal Bahadur

After the first break when the counterinsurgency personnel started searching the debris, they were fired at, once again. This, police said, resumed the encounter though it was a brief one. Again, the landmines were used to destroy Wagay’s home and it crumbled soon.

But the gun battle actually concluded slightly before noon. Then police took its time to scan the area especially the debris. By then, the village was in the tight cordon. Four weapons and some ammunition were recovered. After the police took the bodies in possession, they were handed over to the respective families, which by then had been alerted.

Some of the militants who were trapped in the encounter had actually informed their families about the cordon. In one such brief conversation, Zahid, one of the militants from Okey village in Kulgam, which was shared on Twitter, the boy was talking to his mother. He had requested her to make arrangements for the funeral.

Police sources said there were tensions in the periphery of the village during morning hours but the police and CRPF tackled these. However, these tensions escalated after the operation was declared over and the convoy started moving out and away from the village.

“There were reports about a particular militant from the main town that sent a huge number of youth to the belt, almost 12 km away,” one reporter from Anantnag (Islamabad) said. “The boy who was hit by a bullet in his neck was actually from this group.”

Locals waiting for the last glimpse of slain militant Gulzar Padroo at his ancestral village in Arigen Kulgam, KL image by Bilal Bahadur

The boy was identified as Abdul Rouf Ganai. A resident of Kotwal Chak near Anchidoora, he was basically a salesman at a furniture shop in the main town. He was hit by the bullet in immediate outskirts of the village, not far away from the main highway. He was rushed to the local district hospital but given the critical state, doctors immediately referred him to Srinagar. The boy, however, died well before he could reach the surgeons’ table.

Four other civilians were injured in the incident. Two of them were evacuated to Srinagar.

What is baffling to the police is that the militants who were trapped in the village were from both Hizb ul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The reports, not confirmed by the police, suggest that the two outfits were in a meeting.

The slain militants were identified as Gulzar Ahmad Padder alias Saif resident of Adijan Kulgam, Faisal Ahmad Rather alias Dawood resident of Yamrach Kulgam, Zahid Ahmad Mir alias Hashim resident of Okey Kulgam, Masroor Molvi alias Abu Darda resident of Fatehpora Anantnag and Zahoor Ahmad Lone alias Rehman Bhai resident of Nagnad Noorabad Damhal Hanjipora.

Of the five militants, Gulzar is considered a major hit because of his status and seniority. A resident of Adijan in Kulgam, Padder alias Saif has been a close associate of Altaf Kachroo and Saddam Padder. His entry in militancy was dramatic. At the peak of 2016 unrest when the Police Station Dumhal Hanjipora was attacked by people and set a fire, while some of them stole the weapons. Most of the people, later, returned the weapons to the police. But Gulzar was the only person who neither returned any weapon nor was seen in living a normal life. He disappeared with the weapons.

Police in the routine statement has said the slain militant was involved in a series of militant attacks including the killing of five cops at Pambay in 2017 along with two bank employees. They also said he was also involved in the killings of SPO at Krewan Chidder in Kulgam, and various weapon snatching incidents.

“Padder was one of the top 10 most wanted militants in the region,” a source outside the police formation said. “All others were young and not having much of the history as militants, mostly were in militancy for less than a year, some even half of it.”

Molvi Masroor Ahmad, a report said, was young and had studied up to twelfth class. He had joined a Darulaloom in Kulgam where he was imparting religious education till May 27, when he joined Lashkar-e-Toiba. He had memorized the whole Quran and was married. “He had left home after three months of marriage,” one civilian source said. Son of Bashir Ahmad, the village headman of Fatehpora village, Molvi is survived by three brothers.

“Zahid of Okey village was wanted for his involvement in the killing of policeman Fayaz Ahmad of Zainapora on the day of Eid,” a police spokesman said. “Faisal was involved in the killing of Policeman Gowhar Ahmad who was posted in Shopian last year.” The spokesman added: “Zahoor @ Rehman and Mansoor was involved in series of militant offenses besides recruitment bid in the locality,” the spokesman said.

Tens of thousands of people participated in the huge funeral processions of the slain militants. Since the militants belonged to five different spots in the region, the entire belt was paralyzed. The businesses and the educational institutions were locked and the traffic was off the roads. The skeleton transport between Srinagar and Anantnag and the highway remained unaffected. Train services and the Internet were blocked to prevent real and virtual communication.

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