SRINAGAR: It was perhaps one of the interestingly different operations in the Shopian village that eventually led to the killing of five militants and much later a civilian as well. A number of young men were reported injured in the subsequent developments, mostly protests.
For most of the day on Friday, especially after the Friday prayers were over, there were a series of naka parties deployed on the road linking Shopian with Zainpora. The searches of vehicles and the individuals moving around would take place on the two link roads connecting Kiloora with Penjoor and Malikgund. The three villages are the major cluster in the belt with Penjoora as its epicenter. Major check-post for the day was located near a watermill.
By around Maghrib prayers, a few truckloads of the army moved back to the garrison. This indicated that the daylong checking was over. It was a tactical retreat as the subsequent events proved.
By around 8:30 pm, there was a quick burst of fire. It was basically an ambush that lasted for around five minutes. Within a few minutes, a photograph appeared on the Facebook. It showed Umar Malik, the senior most Lashkar militant dead. He was in fact trying to cross the Sungaloo rivulet when he was shot dead. The photograph showed the cool waters of the Pir Panchal range flowing over him. Malik was a resident of Malikgund and was killed in its periphery. It was not known if he was going home or coming out of it.
This killing marked the beginning of the operation. The army was called from almost all the garrisons around – from Balpora, Panew, and even Chogam. Till 11 pm, Shopian town was witnessing the movement of the army towards the spot of the clash.
For most of the night, the army and other forces were busy sealing all the entry and exit points to the Kiloora village. The process continued for many hours. Police sources said there were more than 10 militants in the area but most of them managed their escape during dead of the night. Army 44-RR was leading the operation with SOG and CRPF.
The door-to-door search ended when forces entered a newly constructed house of Dr Mohammad Yusuf, a Block Medical Officer, triggering a gunfight. The contact was established exactly at 5 am and the gunshots were so intense that they could pierce the calm environs and could be heard in Shopian town, almost 6 kms away. One report said troops used sniffer dogs to trace the militants.
By 9 am, the encounter was declared over by the government forces. The slain militants were identified as Waqar Aslam Sheikh, son of Mohammad Aslam Sheikh, resident of Malik Gund, Shopian, Aijaz Ahmad Pal son of Abdul Rashid Pal, resident of Losedenow Shopian. Arshid Ahmad Kahn, a LeT militant, was from Ganawpora village in Shopian and Arif Ahmad Mir of Yenner village of Pahalgam.
“This was a clean operation,” a senior police officer in Srinagar said. “One house was partially damaged. Almost all the five militants were killed in open, one near the stream and four in an orchard. No security men were injured in the encounter.”
After army and SOG left, a large number people started marching towards the site of the gunfight. After the bodies were handed over to the families, people started gathering in their respective villages.
This led to clashes in the area between people and government forces. At various places especially Ganavpora, the army opened fire that led to the killing of a civilian as many others were injured. Reports suggest that more than 50 people were driven to various hospital and most of them were sent home after first aid. “I believe there were 20 people who were injured and one of them has bullets,” one senior police officer in Srinagar said. “In one case, we still do not know if it is a bullet or something other than that.” At least 10 of the injured were admitted in the SMHS hospital and most of them are from Yanner in Pahalgam, where a huge gathering clashed with the police.
Unconfirmed reports said four persons have received pellets in their eyes. All of them were referred to Srinagar for specialized treatment.
Who Were The Slain?
There was a civilian who was killed along with five militants. Identified as Bilal Ahmad Khan, he lived in Kral Chak on the road near Pujoo, on way to Keller. Reports said he was killed when the protesters and the army clashed soon after the four militants came to attend the funeral of their slain colleague, Arshad Khan, a resident of Ganavpora.
Ganavpora village is at a stone’s throw from the sector headquarter of 11 RR and 44 RR. Within minutes after a huge gathering witnessed the four militants offering gun salute to the slain militant, the village was cordoned off by the army. “There was an encounter about to happen,” one resident said. “But the militants choose a different track to leave the village and the army was coming from a different side.” But the people escorting militants out resorted to stone pelting and the army opened fire.
The exact details of Bilal Khan’s killing were not immediately known. However, officials in the district hospital in Shopian said a woman – who was not a relative of Khan, had somehow brought Khan, riding on a scooter. “The injured man was taken in and declared brought dead,” an official said. “The woman told us that the troops had prevented Khan’s evacuation from the spot after he was hit by the bullet.” The lady was crying after Khan was declared dead by the doctors.
Arshad, residents said, was a Lashkar militant. He had passed twelfth class and was arrested for stone pelting earlier. It was not immediately known for how many days he was in the police custody but he has told his friends that he was tortured and was forced to drink kerosene oil. He had joined Lashkar barely two months back. Police records suggest that his gun-wielding photograph appeared on social media on July 28.
But the most important casualty of the day, according to police was Umar Nazir Malik. He has been a Lashkar militant for two years now and was considered the most senior. He lived not far away from the spot where he was killed.
Umar Malik’s story is interesting. For almost two years, he worked as a volunteer at the district hospital Shopian as a multi-purpose male health worker (MPMHW). He left it and opened a ready-made garment shop in Aliyalpora Shopian. The shop was part of his mother’s inheritance. After running it for a year, he went slightly up the hill road and reached Boher Halan where he opened a medical shop on the Mughal Road.
“He was a distinct character. He wore rings in his ears, had bangles on his wrists, would wear torn pants and was rude,” one Shopian resident who knew Umar said. “All of a sudden he underwent a change, he started going to mosque for prayers, left all those fashionable things and become sober and then he joined militancy.”
As militant he was daring to the extent that he would go home and move around on a bike in Shopian. He was a major militant who would take care of the new recruits.
But Malik was not the only militant from Malikgund. The second militant who was also killed in the operation was Waqar Aslam Sheikh, son of Mohammad Aslam Sheikh.
Waqar was studying outside. He was being trained as a laboratory technician. For Eid, he had come home on vacations and then a month back, he went missing. Son of a gazette officer, Waqar was the only brother of three sisters. So when he went missing, his father would spend most of the day with the police almost begging for help in tracing him.
People who knew Waqar said he was modern and educated. His father had given him an i-20 car quite recently. But he chose to become a militant. It was barely a week back that his photo with a weapon appeared on the social media.
The fourth militant was Aijaz Ahmad Paul, a resident of Losdanev. He was a trained MMPHW and had done some diploma is plastic engineering as well. He is member of a very rich family that has most of its fortune coming from the apple orchards. His one brother is handling the fruit and another is pursuing his PhD. He has a sister too. He has gone missing on July 1 and joined the militants soon.
Nothing much was immediately known about the fifth militant, Arif Ahmad Mir, a resident of Yenner. The only information was that it was a well attended funeral. He had joined militancy only a few days back on July 21.
Once the bodies reached to their respective villages, a large number of people were already waiting there to participate in the funerals. In Shopian, the Malikgund had the major gathering.
The militants made a surprise appearance in the funeral and offered a gun salute to the duo. As per the locals the militants were around 10 in number. Naved Jatt who escaped from police custody in a dramatic manner from SMHS hospital, was also spotted among the militants.
Later militants went to Losedenow village to offer gun salute to Aijaz Ahmad Pal, another militant killed in the gunfight.
After they reached Ganavpora to pay tribute, army cordoned the village resulting in the clashes between the civilians and the military.
At the funeral of Arif Ahmad Mir, intense clashes erupted in Yenner village of Pahalgam on Saturday afternoon, where thousands of people had assembled to participate in the funeral prayers. Around ten civilian protesters have suffered injuries during the clashes, most of them with pellets. Locals also allege that the government forces had blocked the movement of ambulances in the area. “Two ambulance drivers have also been beaten by the government forces,” said a local who wished not to be named.
Army Version on civilian killing
“At around 1500 hours today, Army troops came under fire from terrorists near Ganawpura Orchards. Army troops immediately retaliated. In the cross-fire, one civilian unfortunately got injured, who later succumbed to the injury”.
Kiloora area of district Shopian, Security Forces yesterday night jointly launched searches after it was able to track a group of terrorists in the area.
During the search, terrorist hiding inside a house fired on the search party. The fire was retaliated thereby establishing contact with the terrorists leading to an encounter.
In the ensuing encounter, five terrorists were killed. The identity of the killed terrorists is being ascertained.
Initially it came across that one civilian had lost his life in cross firing but subsequent investigation confirmed that no such civilian death had occurred and reports pertaining to the civilian death were inaccurate. Pertinently the encounter later took place in an open area as the hiding terrorists, taking advantage of darkness came out of the house and fired indiscriminately on Security Forces.
Arms and ammunition were also seized from the site of encounter. Police has registered a case and initiated investigation into the matter.
United Jihad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salahuddin also issued a statement in which he paid tributes to militants killed in gunfights with government forces in Sopore and Shopian.
In a statement issued to GNS, Salahuddin said, “Our brave-hearts are sacrificing their lives. These brave sons of the soil are rendering invaluable sacrifices while leaving the lives of luxury. We are indebted to safeguard these sacrifices.”
UJC chief hailed the spirit of people and said this spirit has given nightmares to Indian leaders.
Earlier, a militant Khurshid Ahmad Malik, a resident of Nikas village in Pulwama was killed in Sopore gunfight on August 2. He was offered funeral prayers in his village on Saturday.
Umar Mukhtar reported from Pulwama, Sheikh Hilal from Shopian, Tahir Bhat and Umar Khurshid from Srinagar. Masood Hussain edited the copy