Nowgam Encounter: The Complete Story

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SRINAGAR: During wee hours, Srinagar uptown woke up to a gun battle that was later traced to the periphery, on the route leading to south Kashmir Pulwama district.  By the time, the office goers started for the day, the encounter was over and the police were trying to restore order and clear the roads.

Thousands of people participated in the funeral prayers of scholar rebar Sabzar Sofi on Wednesday, October 24, 2018. KL Image by Shah Hilal

Details said that a mixed contingent of police, army, and the paramilitary forces swooped on the Wanbal-Nowgam belt soon after midnight. It took them a bit of time to reach the exact spot they were searching. The exact location of the encounter was Sothu Kothair.

“We got up to the knocks slightly past 12 midnight,” one resident said. “The soldiers got in asked about the inmates and took searches of the premises too.” Residents said in certain cases, they stayed around their homes as part of the cordon. The initial teams reached in civil transport.

They besieged the house that was still not ready for the owner. However, part of it was perhaps rented to somebody. “No sooner did the siege implement, the firings started,” a resident, who did not sleep for the whole night, said. “We were hearing slogans and noises too.” Another resident said that somewhere during the night, one young man came out of the house and was apparently the actual tenant who was caught between the two guns.

A view of a damaged residential house after it was gutted during a gun battle between militants and forces at sathu area of Nowgam KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The first bullet was fired at 1:25 am and the last bang was heard at around 6:45 am. In between, there was non-stop gun rattling and bangs. “We have killed two militants as six of our personnel were injured in the gunfight,” DIG Central Kashmir, VK Birdi, who briefed the media after the operation, said. He identified them as Sabzar Sofi and Asif Ahmad Gojri, both residents of Anantnag. Sofi was a well-read militant who joined the rebels’ days after Burhan Wani was killed.

Once the security cordon was over, the locals gushed into the belt. They found a name written on a wall. Sabzar, one of the two slain militants, had used a pebble to write his name on the wall. Police had requested the people to avoid getting into the damaged house in wake of the Laroo happenings in Kulgam where seven youth were killed where a shell exploded.

Father of slain militant Sabzar Ahmad Bhat in mourning.
KL Image by Shah Hilal

Authorities had withdrawn the internet facilities quite early. Schools and colleges were also closed. But the noise of bangs and guns had announced the encounter. By the time, some group of angry youth came on the streets, the encounter was over and the body bags had been taken away. They resorted to stone pelting and in reaction, the police and paramilitary men also indulged in stone pelting. A video that had gone viral on the social media shows the cops and paramilitary men destroyed the belonging of some of the shopkeepers and also damaging the glass panes of homes and the commercial establishments.

The ding-dong battles kept the area almost inaccessible till noon. Later for the whole day, however, tension dominated the streets in the belt.

A police source said Sabzar retained a low profile in south Kashmir and would act around Srinagar. He said the operation was launched by the SOG in Srinagar and was on basis of specific intelligence.

Police Version

“Security forces in the outskirts of Srinagar at Wanbal J/D of P/S Nowgam, launched a cordon and search operation today morning based on credible input about the presence of the terrorists.

During the search operation, terrorists fired upon the search party, which was retaliated leading to an encounter. In the ensuing encounter, 02 terrorists were neutralized. The two killed terrorists have been identified as Sabzar Ahmad Sofi and Asif Ahmad Shergojiri. Both were affiliated with proscribed terror outfit HM.

Body of slain scholar turned militant Sabzar Sofi who got killed on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, in an encounter in Nowgam area of Srinagar. KL Image by Shah Hilal

Sabzar Ahmad Sofi son of Bashir Ahmad Sofi resident of Naina Sangam in district Anantnag had joined terrorist ranks in the year 2016 and was involved in several attacks on security establishments and many other civilian atrocities in district Anantnag. He was involved in many terror cases including FIR No. 22/2018 under section 13 ULAP Act at Police Station Bijbehara. Pertinently, Sabzar Ahmad was involved in the killing of one civilian lady namely Biba wife of Mohammad Yousuf Matto resident of Naina Batapora in the evening of 28-10-2016.

Asif Ahmad Shergojiri alias Khubaib son of Ali Mohammad Shergojiri resident of Khiram Anantnag had joined the terrorist ranks this year in January and was actively involved in attacks on security establishments and civilian atrocities in the area. He was involved in many terror cases and the prominent cases include FIR No. 04/2018 under section 13 ULAP Act registered at Police Station Srigufwara and FIR No. 15/2018 under section 15/2018 under section 451, 392,506 RPC, 7/25 Arms Act registered at Police Station Srigufwara.

Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition were recovered from the site of encounter. Police has registered a case and investigation has been initiated.

Sabzar Enigma

After wrapping up the operation, recovering the dead bodies of the terrorists and Arms and ammunition, the operational parties took security precautions with regard to sanitization of the area and advising people not to unnecessarily visit and tamper with the site of encounter.  The Police advised the people of the locality that anything found suspicious in nature, which could possibly be some explosive material, should be reported to Police so that any inadvertent and avoidable loss to any member of the civil society could be avoided.”

Funerals

Well before the bodies were handed over to the respective families, tensions were up in the Sangam belt, the ancestral area belonging to Sofi. By the time, the funeral prayers were offered to him, the crowd was huge and strong. A group of militants are reported to have joined the funeral prayers and offered a gun salute. Some injuries were also reported from the area but nothing conclusive was known.

JRL has called for a day-long strike on Thursday against the killing. Kashmir has been literally on strike since Sunday when seven youth were killed in an explosion after the encounter at laroo in Kulgam. Though there was a semblance of some normalcy in certain areas on Wednesday, Sabzar’s killing will close Kashmir again.

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