by Yawar Hussain
SRINAGAR: Six people including two children were killed in the Dangri area of Pir Panchal’s Rajouri district since Sunday evening in two interconnected militancy-related incidents, the police said.
Residents said the militants – believed to be three – came in an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) and fired indiscriminately at people living in three adjacent houses near Ram Temple in the upper Dangri area. The firing led to injuries to 10 people among which three were declared dead on arrival at the GMC Rajouri hospital.
“They (militants) checked the Aadhar cards to ascertain the identity of these people,” a local said, alleging that the people have been killed on the basis of their religion.
Following Sunday’s incident, the army, police and paramilitary forces launched a search operation to catch the perpetrators along with sanitising the area. However, early Monday morning an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off outside the house of one of the victims of Sunday’s attack killing two children while injuring three other children and two women.
Additional Deputy General of Police Jammu Mukesh Singh said another suspected IED was being cleared.
Another police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it appears the militants, who fired at three houses in Dangri before fleeing in their car on Sunday, planted the IEDs.
“The IED blast was a planned attack aimed at targeting senior officers (who were to reach the site). The officers reached the spot late. The incident had happened already,” DGP Dilbagh Singh told reporters during his Rajouri visit. “We will have to give them a befitting reply.”
The deceased have been identified as Pritam Sharma (56) and his 33-year-old son Ashish Kumar, Deepak Kumar (23), a PHE employee, and Sheetal Kumar (48).
Six persons were injured in the attack and among them, two, Rohit Pandit (35) and Shubam Sharma (20) son of Pritam Sharma, were airlifted to the GMC Jammu. Four injured were admitted to the GMC Rajouri and include Pawan Kumar (38), Saroj Bala (35) wife of Sheetal Kumar, Sushil Kumar (40) son of Kundal Lal and Urishi Sharma (17) daughter of Sheetal Kumar.
Angry residents and relatives earlier took to the streets with the bodies of the four men, killed on Sunday, demanding the safety of the locals.
The protesters blamed law enforcement agencies for failing in checking militancy in the region and demanded the transfer of Deputy Commissioner Vikas Kundal and Senior Superintendent of Police Mohammad Aslam.
Chanting anti-police and anti-administration slogans the locals alleged that today’s IED blast could have been prevented if the police had acted “proactively.”
The locals said they would not cremate the bodies unless LG Sinha visits Dangri, and announces adequate compensation, and jobs for the kin of four besides assuring them of a safe and secure environment without fear. The protester also demanded the renewal of gun licenses in the area, the revival of Village Defence Committees and granting of guns to people who earlier had been entitled legally. The LG while condemning the attack declared compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the victims along with a government job for the next of kin.
LG Sinha visited the area to condole the deaths along with meeting the protesters and families of victims. He assured the people that those behind the attack won’t be spared. “I strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Rajouri. I assure the people that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished. My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families,” Sinha said in a tweet.
BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir president Ravinder Raina and Vice-president Vibodh Gupta, who both hail from the area, rushed to the spot-on late Sunday evening for damage control.
However, angry protesters asked Raina as to what the administration was doing to safeguard the lives of the people of the region.
Raina in a statement said that “such incidents prove the frustration of Pakistan”. He and protesting locals asked DGP Dilbagh Singh, who visited the area, to renew gun holders’ licences and revive the Village Defence Committees.
Raina claimed that a local man had a licensed gun with which he fired forcing militants to flee. “If he hadn’t fired then there would have been more casualties.”
The killings were widely condemned. “Deeply shocked as more details emerge of this targeted attack in Rajouri district of Jammu. I unequivocally condemn this heinous attack & send my condolences to the families of the deceased. I hope those injured in this attack will make a swift & complete recovery. #RajouriAttack,” Omar Abdullah tweeted. After the IED explosion, he added: “This apparent carelessness on the part of the security forces needs to be probed & accountability fixed. Costly lessons learnt in the past taught us not to hand over the sites of encounters/attacks without thoroughly sanitising them. Why wasn’t this SOP followed in Rajouri?”
“Condemn this cowardly act & condolences to their families. Despite being under BJP rule & its bogus claims of ending militancy, violence continues unabated. Had J&K had its own elected government, the same media would have hauled them over the coals,” Ms Mehooba Mufti tweeted.
“I condemn the killing of innocent persons. It does not matter what religion or region the victim belongs to, an innocent is an innocent,” Dr Farooq Abdullah told reporters. “What was the fault of the victims in Rajouri? Or what was the fault of the Kashmiri Pandits killed in Shopian?” he asked.
“I strongly condemn the attack on innocent civilians in Dangri village of Rajouri in no uncertain terms,” Communist leader Yousuf Tarigami said. “The incident is at odds with the government’s normalcy narrative. Unfortunate that government has failed to contain violence despite making lofty claims about improved security situation.”
“Yet another carnage. This time in Rajouri. Condemn the cowardly act. My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives,” People’s Conference leader Sajad Lone tweeted. “The perpetrators of this dastardly act will rot in hell.”
“Such heinous acts are condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Apni Party said in a tweet. “We stand in solidarity with the civilians and pray for peace to the deceased, and strength to the bereaved.”
Earlier, Sanatan Dharam Sabha and other Hindu organisations such as Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal had given a call for a bandh to protest against the killings. The Bharatiya Janata Party has supported the call. There was a huge gathering on roads in protest against the killings and the protesters were from all faiths.
The Jammu region has witnessed three major militancy-related incidents beginning last month with the killing of two civilians in a firing incident near the gate of an army camp in Rajouri.
The locals had alleged that a sentry fired and called it a mistaken identity but the army denied the allegation. The army blamed “unidentified terrorists” for the deaths of Surinder Kumar, 40, and Kamal Kishore, 39. The government has announced an enquiry into the twin killings.
On December 28 last year, four armed militants were killed inside a truck during an exchange of fire with forces at Sidhra near Jammu amid a high alert in the region ahead of Republic Day.
DG Dilbagh Singh, who also visited Dangri, said that security in the region would be revisited with the demands of the locals also taken into consideration. “It is a cowardly act. We will eliminate the enemies soon.”
Earlier in December, DGP Singh had said that “militancy in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is at an all-time low, with the Jammu region largely free of the menace due to the proactive approach of security forces and public collaboration.”