by Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: Hajin witnessed an impressive gathering in its Eidgah as tens of thousands of people converged to participate in the huge funeral prayers of the two teenage militants who were killed in an encounter in Mujgund, in city outskirts. There were several rounds of funeral prayers and massive sloganeering from all sides.
“It was a scene not witnessed in Hajin for a long time,” one witness said. “There were multiple funeral prayers after thousands of people including women and children took both the coffins from the villages to the main graveyard in Hajin. The scenes were emotional and not seen for a long time.”
With the killing of minor ‘militant’ Mudasir Parrey, 14, Kashmir got its youngest militant but his funeral procession is going to haunt people across the divide for long. “Mudasir and his minor sister’s childish faces who was continuously gazing her dead brother is going to haunt us for long,” another eyewitness added. The two were taken on the cot that carried the coffin by thousands of sloganeering people.
Another teenage militant was identified as Saqib Bilal Sheikh, 17, also a resident of Hajin. Both of them were affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The third militants was a non-local whose burial followed the set protocol.
The Hajin teenagers were killed along with their non-local commander in a fierce gun-battle in Mujgund. The encounter lasted almost 18 hours. As the encounter was going on, three civilians sustained bullet injuries in massive clashes that rocked the periphery of the encounter site. Six residential houses were also damaged in the encounter, some of them completely decimated.
The police spokesperson the counter-insurgent personnel were acting on a specific input about the presence of militants in a residential house at Ghat Mohalla village in Mujgund area. The joint team comprised special operations group of Jammu and Kashmir police, army’s 5 Rashtriya Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force. The searches in the area started at around 6 pm on Saturday. The operation was over Sunday noon.
“After zeroing in on a suspected house, forces fired some warning shots after which the militants resorted to indiscriminate firing,” the police spokesman said. “The fire was returned, triggering a fierce gun-battle.”
Reports suggest that the two militants, probably the two teenagers were killed by Saturday only but the foreign militant continued to fire till Sunday. One of the senior officers informed Kashmir Life, “The foreign militant gave us a tough time as he was continuously changing his location.”
The forces late night installed high-beam lights and strengthened the “outer and middle-layer cordon” to “ensure the last militant doesn’t flee.”
The officer added that there was a law and order situation throughout the night as youth continued to engage police in pitched battles. “The firing stopped at 10 pm and then there was a lull,” he said. “We decided not to retrieve the bodies because we had a credible input about the presence of the third militant as well. Knowing that two of them stand killed, we decided to wait for the first light of Sunday.”
By the first light, the third militant opened indiscriminate firing. “From 5 am onwards, he resorted to indiscriminate firing again. He kept on changing locations by moving from one house to another. He fought us and was a well-trained militant,” he said.
A soldier and two cop’s also sustained injuries in the encounter but all of them are said to be stable and out of danger.
The encounter took place in the hut-type small structures with wooden material that police says easily caught fire.
But the locals say the initial exchange of gunfire started at around 5 pm after forces cordoned off the entire area and began evacuating the families from their homes. “We were barely at a few metres from our homes when gunfire broke out,” Ghulam Ahmad Lami, said. “In a hurry, we only managed to put on our slippers and fled.”
Lami, who has a family of six says he lost all of his possessions including his vegetable cart in the aftermath of the encounter. His was among the many houses that was razed during the gun battle. Of his one storey house, he is left with a pile of ruins only.
As the people were allowed to move towards the encounter site, many locals were seen recording the site with their smart phones. They were shooting the charred houses, at least eight houses, in ruins. “Shattered crockery, splinters of glass. Walls pockmarked with bullets. A crater left by a mortar shell,” was what everybody witnessed with the whole locality sent into the pungent smell of gunfire.
Another resident Ghulam Rasool Kachroo says he was home when they were told to evacuate leaving behind all their possessions.
“We weren’t allowed to take anything with us and all night our children were crying with hunger but we had no money to buy them food,” said the wife of Ghulam Ahmad Kachroo, sobbingly. All night, she says, they could hear sounds of relentless gunfire and explosions. “All we could do was pray helplessly.”
The gunfire was so fierce that people living miles away could feel their windows shaking. Returning next day, in the afternoon, they not only found all three of their houses devastated but saw their cows lying in the pool of blood, shuddering heavily. They had to amputate tail of one cow to take out the bullets which had inflicted grave injuries to its body.
People in the area have started collecting funds for the victims of the encounter with some voluntarily bringing construction material in trucks. “These families are left with nothing in this bone-chilling winter. Whatever little they had is lost to the encounter and they should be compensated for their loss,” said a local resident.
A police spokesman said that two slain militants were identified as Mudasir Rashid Parray and Saqib Bilal Sheikh—both from Hajin area of Bandipora district—while the third militant was identified as Ali Bhai, a Pakistani national. All the three belonged to LeT, the spokesman said, adding, “The slain militants were wanted by law for their complicity in crimes.”
Ali, according to police records, ‘was involved in several militancy crimes and cases including attacks on forces. He was also involved in the recruitment of local youth in Sumbal areas of Bandipora.’
A police official said that Ali was a Lashkar commander wanted in many cases. “He was A++ category militant and responsible for luring both Mudasir and Saqib into Lashkar fold,” the official said.
But there was no police record maintained for Mudasir and Saqib.
Two teenagers from Hajin area had reportedly joined militancy together. Mudasir Ahmad Parrey, 14, a ninth class student and Saqib Bilal Sheikh, 17, an eleventh standard student, had gone missing from their homes in August this year and joined the militant ranks together.
Mudasir hailed from Khanka Mohalla, and Saqib Bilal Sheikh from Parrey Mohalla had gone missing from their homes on August 31, the day an encounter took place in Parr Mohalla (Hajin) in which three Pakistani militants were killed.
According to the police, both the teenagers had formally joined militant ranks on October 15.
Farida Begum, a mother of Mudasir, who was inconsolable, told reporters that she was not aware of her son’s plunge into militancy after he went missing. “Had I been aware of this, I would have never allowed him to go out of the home,” she told reporters at their home, which looked like a tin shed.
Recently, a picture of Mudasir, holding an AK-47 rifle and a knife, had gone viral on social networking sites. The police claimed that the picture was three-month-old.
Mudasir’s mother said he left home on Friday (31 August) at around 11 am and never came back. She says the family came to know about his joining militancy when his picture went viral on Wednesday. The family had made fervent appeals to him to come back. Mudasiris survived by his parents, an elder brother and a younger sister.
His family also informed reporters that Mudasir’s father is a patient and his mother is also a heart patient. “Mudasir was studying in class 9 and would also work as a labourer on a part-time basis to help the family financially,” Farida said. “He was the lone bread-winner for us because my other son is handicapped.”
According to Saqib’s family, he had also left home at around 11.30 am on Friday, August 31 and they had no information about him for a month.
“He sent a communication to us that he had joined militant ranks but we didn’t meet him during these three months,” Mehbooba Begum said. “I have no regrets over his death.” Saqib had two more siblings, his eldest brother is a student of Navodiya Vidhaylay in Uri, and has the youngest sister.
(Aamir Aijaz contributed to the story)