by Umar Khurshid
SRINAGAR: Two militants were killed in a rare encounter that took place in the heart of south Kashmir town. In the subsequent clashes between protesters and the police, a few people were reported injured also.
There have been a series of militant actions in the town but this is the first incident in which there was an encounter that led to the killing of militants, or damage to property.
Slightly past midnight, a mixed contingent of Army, CRPF and the Special Operational Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police laid a siege at Mehmaan Mohalla in Lal Chowk area of Anantnag (Islamabad) town. The area was effectively in cordon during wee hours when the residents were fast asleep.
A local resident wishing anonymity said that his family broke their sleep when heavy firing and blast like sounds were heard at around 4 am. It created panic in the entire belt. “It seemed a gun battle but it was after the daybreak that we actually knew an encounter was going in the area,” he said.
Officials, however, said they launched the cordon following specific inputs about the presence of some militants in the area. As the searches started, the militants fired upon the forces party triggering an encounter. Two to three militants were believed to be trapped inside a residential house in the area, according to police.
The location of the area makes any violent activity a very difficult one. It is highly congested and the houses are deadly close to each other. The locality is just behind the major landmark, the Rehat Dedi Masjid. It is at the centre of three major localities – one towards Lal Chowk and the second towards the massively congested Cheeni Chowk.
The house where from militants fired upon the counter-insurgent forces, belonged to brothers Nisar Ahmed Khan, and Mufeed Khan, police said. Both of them are shopkeepers by profession – one into readymade garments and another in cosmetics. Residents said the gun-battle and grenade explosions in the three-story house damaged it inside out. But the concrete structure stands, they said. Some houses in the neighbourhood also suffered damage, they added. A police officer confirmed that the house is seriously damaged by massive blasting and walls are seriously compromised.
Police said they had no idea about Tariq Ahmad Khan, son of house-owner, who is yet to report back home.
As the panic spread and the people started looking for details, the authorities snapped the mobile internet services in the entire region including Kulgam. One major reason for lack of adequate footage from the spot of the clash was the reporters’ inability to access the internet. Within minutes, the railway service on Srinagar-Banihal track was also suspended as a “precautionary measure”. Interestingly, the distance between the railway line and the spot of the clash is almost 5 kms.
Clashes were also reported from several areas around Lal Chowk at around 10:20 am, in which scores of the youth from several areas of the town took to the streets. Authorities, however, had also imposed restrictions in the town to avoid any untoward incident; all entry and exit points to Lal Chowk were sealed and barricaded with concertina wires.
The restrictions were so tight that the troops even denied a close-by view of the spot of the clash, otherwise a routine. They offered no reasons for the rare restrictions of the media personnel. However, none of the media corps was harmed.
Later, around, 11 am, an official confirmed the death of two militants during the encounter. The slain militants were identified as Abid Hussain Bhat, son of Wali Mohd Bhat, a resident of Sazan, Bagwah, Doda and Bin Yamin Dar, son of Mohammad Yousuf Dar, a resident of Sofi Mohalla Khudwani Kulgam. He was operating under the alias Bilal Molvi. Both the slain militants were affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit. According to a police report, Bilal was involved in a series of militant activities.
Bin Yamin, police said, had gone to Pakistan on valid passport where he underwent training in handling arms and ammunition and returned home. He joined militancy formally on July 29, 2017. “We have at least three cases pending against him,” one senior police officer from Kulgam said. “These include a case of murder and a weapon snatching case.”
After the body of Bilal Ahmed, was handed over to his family, reports said thousands of people from Khudwani and its adjoining areas participated in his funeral. He was laid to rest at the family’s ancestral graveyard in Sofi Mohalla, Khudwani.
An eyewitness said that two rounds of funeral prayers were held for the slain militant and first funeral of the slain militant was leaded by his father Mohammad Yousuf Dar. It triggered commotion when the father decided to lead his son’s funeral.
Soon after the slain militant was buried, militants appeared, out of nowhere and offered a gun salute to their slain colleague.
After the funeral was over, protests were reported in the major village. Soon, the clashes broke out between the protestors and police. An eye witness claimed seven people, all residents of Khudwani and its adjoining areas, sustained injuries after they clashed with police and CRPF.
“We have received seven persons, five with pellet injuries and two with stone injuries,” an official from Kulgam hospital said. “All injured persons are stable now.”
Interestingly, SHO Qaimoh police station Mubarak Ahmad was also hit by pellet. “He has received an injury on his face and is stable,” a senior police officer from Kulgam said.
The Khudwani belt is in news for various weeks now. From the killing of children in Hawoora to the killing of a few militants, a few days back, the belt is on the newspaper front pages.
Police said the Doda militant had joined the Lashkar on July 1. “We are investigating why and how he landed in militant camp,” a police officer said. “We have handed over the body to his family and it has already been dispatched to Doda.”
Police on Wednesday issued the following statement about the encounter saying the joint patrol of security forces launched searches at Lal Chowk area after it received credible leads about the presence of the militants inside a house.
“As the government forces advanced towards the suspect house, the militants hiding inside fired on the security forces, which was retaliated resulting in an encounter in which two militants were killed. Besides, no collateral damage occurred during the encounter.”
“On the basis of the incriminating materials seized, it is established that they belonged to proscribed militant organisation LeT; one of the slain militants was identified as Bilal Ahmad Dar alias Bin Yamin Dar son of Mohammad Yousuf Dar of Sofi Mohalla Khudwani Kulgam. The identity of the other militant is yet to be ascertained,” said police spokesperson in a statement.
“As per police records Bilal alias Bin Yamin Dar was involved in series of militant activities,” the spokesman said.
Some arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter. Police has registered a case and investigation has been initiated into the matter, said spokesperson.
Both factions of the Hurriyat – led by Geelani and Mirwaiz, issued statements. Hurriyat (m) in a statement said the “youth are offering priceless sacrifices and the people of Kashmir and the leadership is duty bound to protect and take forward the mission of martyrs.”
Hurriyat (g) spokesman quoted Geelani saying that the youth are on the forefront of the movement and laying their precious lives. Blaming authorities for political uncertainty in state, Geelani said that their “stubborn” attitude is the root cause of appalling situations and continuous bloodshed in state.