by Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: Late Friday evening heart-wrenching videos surfaced on social networking sites showing a mother, Shareefa Bano appealing militants on a loudspeaker to leave her minor son Atif Mir, 12, who was held hostage by them. Atif was killed in the encounter along with two foreign militants in the 24 hours encounter that started on Thursday in Mir Mohalla, Hajin.
On Thursday, the police and army had launched three cordon and search operations (CASO) in Hajin belt and during one such operation, they arrived at the Mir’s house where the contact with militants was established thus starting the encounter.
As the counter-insurgent forces cordoned off the house, two Pakistani militants, Ali and Hubaib, both affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfit, took Atif Mir and his uncle Abdul Hamid Mir, hostage.
But on Thursday around 6 pm, Atif’s uncle Hamid managed to escape. A resident while quoting Hamid said, “I was repeatedly asking both the militants to let us go but they did not. Two militants, Atif and I were in the second storey of the house. In the exchange of fire both the militants were injured and I managed to escape but while running one of the militant shot two bullets at me. One hit the door and another staircase.”
Hamid had further said, “When I came out of the house I informed Army personnel that Atif is alive but both the militants are injured and they can save Atif.”
The resident added: “Some females tried to go towards the house to plead the militants to let Atif go but once they were closer, the militants fired so they had to come back.”
Later, Atif’s mother tried to persuade the militants through loudspeaker after which the eye witness says militant showed her Atif from a widow but they did not leave him.
While quoting Atif’s father, The Indian Express reported that senior police officers tried hard to rescue his son. “They delayed the operation until yesterday evening, but the militants didn’t release my son.”
Another eyewitness informed Kashmir Life over the phone that announcements were made on masjid loudspeakers as well. “There is a rumour in the locality that militants were with Mir family for the last four days and Atif was very friendly and playing with them,” he said.
“No doubt that the counter-insurgent forces made serious efforts. But maybe the boy’s life could have been saved if the security forces would have called off the operation completely,” told a villager to the Indian Express.
Atif is survived by his father, Muhammad Shafi Mir, mother Shareefa Bano and two sisters who are studying in 1st year and class 11th.
Atif’s house was also damaged in the encounter which they were sharing with one of his uncles. His other three uncles also live at the same place. Atif belonged to a well to do family dealing with fruits and the chemicals sprayed on fruit trees.
One of his uncles Nazir Ahmad Mir who has recently retired from the army.
Too Many Crackdowns
This area in Hajin, Mir Mohalla has witnessed maximum cordons over last few years but the youth would come out on streets and pelt stones on the forces and giving chance to the militants to escape but during this encounter, no clashes took place in Hajin. A minor stone pelting incident was reported on the order side of the area in Saderkot area.
Hajin was once a bastion of pro-government militia Ikhwan, but in recent years police says it has become a hub of Pakistani militants. As a result of which many local youth are arrested during raids and then released as well.
“If you go through the recent encounters, you will find out that during encounters militants came out of the houses so that the houses are speared but this was the first encounter in the recent past in which a house was destroyed to cinders and a kid was also held, hostage,” said a local, while wishing anonymity.
The Minor Boy
The minor boy was being held hostage by militant Ali. “He did not allow the boy to go and before we stormed the building, he killed the boy. We showed a lot of patience for nine hours but they did not relent and killed the boy,” an online portal The First Post quoted the district SP saying.
Both the militants belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba militant outfit and Ali was active in Hajin belt since 2017.
The online portal also reported, “The militants appeared at the Mir’s house in Mir Mohallah and took the family hostage, demanding they bring back one of their daughters who was shifted to Sopore after Ali had started threatening her to get married to him.”
District SP Bandipora Rahul Malik had also told reporters at a press briefing, “In this encounter, we, initially rescued six civilians who were trapped inside the house. After that, we came to know that two more civilians were inside who had been taken hostage by the militants.”
Malik said the forces tried several ways to rescue the hostages, like involving the local Auqaf committee members who made announcements appealing militants to release the two civilians.
“We also engaged a special team through drone intervention and they went inside. But they were fired at when they entered the house,” he said.
Malik said they also sent the mother of one of the civilians held hostage by the militants.
“But the militants again opened fire and in that process, we managed to get uncle of minor a boy rescued. We later involved the magistrate to make an appeal to the militants to release the minor boy but the efforts couldn’t fructify,” Malik said.
He said “when the firing intensified from the other side”, the forces “also retaliated and in the action, two militants were killed.”
Malik claimed that the minor boy was being held hostage by Ali.
He said the operation started at 9 am and the forces waited for nine hours so that the boy could be rescued. “We showed a lot of patience but the militants didn’t release him,” he said. The forces blew up the house with explosives. Charred bodies of the militants and the boy were recovered from the debris.
In a statement issued Friday evening, police said: “Initially the militants kept two civilians as hostages. However the police and security forces with the assistance of community members safely rescued one 60-year-old civilian Abdul Hameed. Another 12-year-old civilian Aatif Mir was kept hostage by the militant till the end and despite repeated requests by community members and police for his release, he was brutally killed by the militants and could not be rescued from the clutches of militants”.
“Militants then fired on the security forces who engaged them in an encounter after the civilians in the adjoining areas had been evacuated to safer places. In the ensuing encounter, 02 militants were killed and the bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter. From the incriminating material recovered at the site of the encounter, it is understood that the two killed militants were Pakistani nationals identified as Ali and Hubaib. As per the police records, both were affiliated with proscribed outfit LeT,” the statement read, adding: “They (militants) were wanted by law for their complicity in a series of crimes including attacks on security force establishments and civilian atrocities. According to the police records they were also responsible for conspiring and executing many attacks in the area. Several crime cases were registered against them.”
The police said it has registered a case and initiated an investigation in the matter. “Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter. All the incriminating material recovered has been taken into case records for further investigation to probe their complicity in other cases. Citizens are requested not to venture inside the encounter zone since such an area can prove dangerous due to stray explosive materials. People are requested to cooperate with police till the area is completely sanitised and cleared of all the explosives materials if any,” the statement read.
Buried Near His School
The minor Atif’s was a class 6 student at Army Goodwill School. He is remembered as a bright student in the area who had recently applied for admission at two boarding schools, Uri and Manasbal. He was good at football as well. But now he lies buried about 500 metres away from his school. His funeral was held on Friday at around 3.30 pm which was attended by thousands of the locals.
Meanwhile Atif’s house just 200 meters away from the house of Kashmir’s minor militant Mudasir who was killed in an encounter in December 2018.
The shocking incident has invoked strong reactions from people in the Valley. Many took to social networking sites to express their anger. “Aatif was held hostage by militants. Militants & armed forces are both responsible for this murder. Surely militants are accused of a horrible crime,” human rights activist Khurram Parvez wrote on Twitter.
The head cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also tweeted, “Condemn and deeply saddened at the killing of 11-year-old Atif in Hajin. It is heart wrenching that the young child was lost in such a manner. My heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved family and dua for Jannah for the innocent soul.”
“As Atif is dead now, maybe he died of a bullet of a militant or government forces but it is killing and nobody can justify it by blaming each other,” said a student in the University of Kashmir.