by Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: In an encounter between militants and a mixed contingent of counter-insurgent forces that started during wee hours on Sunday, three militants were killed, including two locals. It is being termed as “a clean” operation because no civilian casualty, otherwise a routine for the last many years, was reported from the spot.
One civilian identified as Mohsin son of Reyaz Ahmad, a resident of Shalipora, however, was later injured, during the funeral prayers. He is presently undergoing treatment in Bone and Joint Hospital, Srinagar. Police said he received a bullet in his leg accidentally when militants offered gun salute to one of the slain militants.
The slain militants, according to police, were identified as Muawiya, a foreigner of Pakistani origin; Suhail Ahmad Dar of Redwani Balaa and Mudassar Ahmad Dar alias Rehaan of Shalipora Kulgam. Police says the militants were affiliated with the Lashka-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizb ul Mujahideen (HM) outfits.
The encounter brought the area back to sharp focus. It is same belt that witnessed a series of events in last two months. The latest was the Hawoora incident in which the army killed three children including a teenage school going girl.
Cop Kidnapped, Killed
What makes the encounter significant is the police claim that the operation was outcome of the chase that counter-insurgency grid started after a police man Mohammad Saleem was kidnapped and killed. They even insist that the slain trio was part of the group that was involved in the cop’s killing.
Saleem was kidnapped on July 21. Saleem was first abducted by ‘unidentified’ gunmen and later killed.
Saleem Shah was kidnapped during the intervening night of July 20-21 by suspected militants, after they barged into his house in Mutalhama village, according to police. His body was recovered from a nursery near village Redwani Payeen that falls under the Wanpoh police station on Saturday afternoon.
Shah was a special police official (SPO) whose services were regularized in recently. He had joined the police in 2016, and after completing his basic training, he was posted to Pulwama. Shah was the only earning member of his family and is survived by his parents, two brothers and a sister. Police suspect the involvement of HM. in the abduction and killing.
A police officer in Kulgam said slain cop bore torture marks on his body and not a bullet.
Within hours after the police received the body, a video appeared on the social media. It was picked by various TV Channels in Delhi. Apparently shot, prior to his killing, the video recorded him saying that he was involved in Adil Pathan’s killing.
In Delhi, Minister of State (MoS) for Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh has said the killing of local cop could be a conspiracy in order to discourage the Kashmiri youth from joining the armed forces.
Raids For His Rescue
Police said they launched a series of raids in the entire belt for rescuing the cop. “We were sure that militants were operating in the belt and were shifting him from one village to another,” the officer said. “After we recovered the body, we had the information about presence of a group of militants in the village. It was specific one.”
On basis of the information, a cording and search operation (CASO) was planned.
CASO was launched during midnight and by 3:30 am, all exit routes were sealed by a mixed contingent of government forces comprising Army’s 1st RR, SOG and 18Bn CRPF. Though the entire belt was sealed, the CASO was targeted around Wani Mohalla, Khudwani.
The contact was established between the hiding militants and forces at around 5.30 am which resulted in a fierce encounter. One police official said they asked militants to surrender which they refused.
“It was a quick encounter,” police said. It was over by 8.30 am with the killing of three militants and one Army personnel was also injured in the encounter, who sustained splinter injuries. He has been evacuated to the hospital.
Two residential houses and one commercial building were damaged in the encounter. “The militants shifted from one hiding place to another due to which residential houses of Abdul Lateef Wani, Sartaj Ahmad Wani and one commercial building of Mohammad Yousuf Wani caught fire,” sources said. Abdul Lateef Wani is in Saudi Arabia where he is performing Hajj.
Another damaged house belongs to Sartaj Ahmad Wani, also a shopkeeper. The commercial building belonged to Mohammad Yousuf Wani, who is locally known as ‘Doctor’ but is working as a paramedic in medical department. He is also presently in Saudi Arabia for Hajj duty as Khuddam.
Mudasir was the main militant active in the belt. A resident of Shalipora, near Katrusoo, police said he was “Molvi type” young man who was the “main motivator” and finally “he joined the militancy some three months back.”
“Mudasir was main militant in the area who was sending local boys for arms training through Wagah border,” one officer said. “He himself was not much qualified and before joining militant ranks he was working as a carpenter.”
Police says he was involved in a few cases. He had four back to back funeral prayers at was finally buried in the local cemetery at around 15.30.
Suhail, another local militant, was a resident of Redwani. He had joined militancy ranks in April 2018, when the area witnessed a fierce encounter in which three militants came out of a long cordon in which various houses went up in flames. Police had nothing much to share on him excepting that he was laid to rest amid various funerals in his village.
Police said the Pakistani militant Mauwiya was involved in a number of civilian killings and was one of the oldest surviving non-local militant operating in the area. “Militants from both the outfits are operating jointly in the area,” the officer said. He offered no details about the foreigner beyond that.
A brief video clip that appeared on the social media suggested a couple of militants actually being helped to move out of the funeral amid gun shots. There were some “volunteers” apparently managing a distance between the militants and the people who had assembled for the funeral.
“There was stone pelting around but ensured that the gap between the encounter sites and the stone pelters is enough and we ensure we maintain the gaps and follow the SOP,” one officer who was part of the encounter said.
As soon as the encounter was over, the police administration snapped the mobile internet services in Kulgam and Islamabad areas as a ‘precautionary measure’. Train services were also suspended. However trains continued chugging between Baramulla and Srinagar.
A joint patrol of government forces in early Sunday morning launched searches in Redwani area in district Kulgam after it received credible inputs about the presence of the militants in a cluster of houses. As the security forces advanced, hiding militants fired resulting in a brief encounter in which three militants were killed. No collateral damage occurred during the encounter.
On the basis of the incriminating materials seized, the slain militants were identified as Muawiya, a foreigner of Pakistani origin, Suhail Ahmad Dar of Redwani Balaa and Mudassar @Rehaan of Katarsoo; all involved in the killing of Constable Mohd Saleem. As per records the slain militants were affiliated with the militant outfit LeT and HM.
Mauwiya was involved in a number of civilian killings. Suhail who was working as a laborer earlier after he had dropped out from school had later joined a militant outfit. Police probe is on for ascertaining complicity of the other co-conspirators who assisted in the commission of the gruesome crime leading to the death of police person Saleem.
Some arms and ammunition including but not limited to 2 AK 47 rifles and a carbine have also been recovered from the site of encounter. Police has registered a case and investigation has been initiated into the matter.