Shopian Shootout: The Complete Story

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SRINAGAR: As the rumours started that there was a brief shoot-out near Penjoora, the reporters in Shopain rushed to the district hospital because this invariably is the first stop for all the casualties, conflict or otherwise. Well before they could see an injured, the actual details enforced a sort of tension in the town.

It was 8 pm when the incident took place. Army broke the news that they killed a militant. Within less than 15 minutes, the follow-up came that there were three “OGWs”, the overground workers, who were also killed in the shootout. By late evening, police were in a position to say that the toll may go up. By morning, two more bodies were recovered, one each of a civilian, not far away from the spot of the shootout and another, that of a militant, almost 7 km away, at Saidpora Payeen, a village located between Meemander and Shamsipora, very close to Shopian-Kulgam road. Still, police believes, there could be some more people who might be busy treating themselves for bullet wounds.

Interestingly, this shootout also involved the 44-Rashtriya Rifles, the particular army battalion that was earlier charged for a series of killings at Ganawpora village, near the Balpora garrison.

Shopian Shootout

Details of Shopian shootout are still hazy and fluid but we bring some motion images from South Kashmir.Watch this video

Posted by Kashmir Life on Monday, March 5, 2018

What actually happened is still a mystery. There are versions coming from all sides. But before one goes through the versions, it is basic to understand the location and the topography.

Shopian Roads

Apart from its connectivity with Srinagar through Pulwama, to Poonch through Mughal Road and to Ahrabal through Sedow, Shopian has three major routes that connect it with the rest of South Kashmir. It connects with the Jammu – Srinagar highway at Wanpoh through Kulgam. Another road also connects it with the same highway at Wanpoh and moves through Herman and Kader. The third road also joins the highway but at Bejbehara through Imam Sahab and Zainapora.

In addition to all this, there is another road that moves through Penjoora and Molo Chitragam and connects it to the heart of Wachi. The Sunday shootout happened on this route that runs parallel to and is in between Pulwama Shopian road and Shopian Bejbehara road.

But what happened is whom you talk to. There are multiple versions of the story.

The Army Version

It was Rajesh Kalia, the Srinagar based spokesman of the Army who broke the news. “A joint Mobile Vehicle Check Post near Pohan (Shopian) was fired upon by terrorists at 2000 hrs from a vehicle,” Kalia communicated reporters. “In retaliatory firing, one terrorist identified as Shahid Ahmad Dar S/o Mushtaq Ahmad Dar R/O Jamnagri, Shopian was killed and a weapon has been found with him. Also, the three OGWs / accomplices in the car who were accompanying the terrorist were found to be dead.”

Kashmiri villagers carry the body of a civilian Suhail Ahmad during his funeral at Pinjura village south of Srinagar, Monday, March 5, 2018. Soldiers killed four youth and two militants on Sunday evening. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Later Monday afternoon, Kalia issued another statement. “At around 8 pm, two speeding vehicles were seen approaching the MVCP location from the direction of village Trenz. The stops deployed, signaled the vehicles to stop, however, both the vehicles continued to move.  At this point, when a searchlight was flashed towards the approaching vehicles, the heavy firing came from both the vehicles.  Own troops, in self-defence, responded the same with fire. In the ensuing gunfight, one terrorist firing from one of the vehicles was hit and he fell off the vehicle and the vehicle veered off the road towards the nala and the second vehicle sped off.

Later during the search, the body of a terrorist was recovered, who was identified as Amir Ahmad Malik R/O village Harmen, Cat-C terrorist. He was part of banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba and was active since July 2017. Warlike stores including one AK-74, 3 magazines, and 88 rounds were also recovered from the dead terrorist. Three more dead bodies were found in the vehicle during the search. These individuals were accompanying the terrorist.

At around 9 am on 5 March 2018, the body of another terrorist, identified as Ashiq Hussain Bhat, R/O Rakhpora, part of banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba, was found from apple orchards of village Saidpura, who is also linked with the same chain of events at village Pohanu.”

The Police Version

Police had no version at all. It was pitching dark and they had locally refused the army’s suggestion that they must launch a cordon and search operation (CASO) in Pahnoo village. An inspector rank officer from the police station Shopian, however, drove to the spot of the shootout and reported quickly that three youth are dead in the backseat of the swift car. He also did the basic medico-legal formalities and took the local help in identifying the slain four.

It was almost 14 hours later on Monday morning that police issued a statement. Almost upholding the army version, the police said “on the basis of the docket received from the army it is learned that the MVCP of army located near Pahnoo in Shopian was fired upon from a swift vehicle. The army retaliated in which a militant was killed and three individuals who were accompanying the said militant in the vehicle also succumbed to their injuries.”

Villagers shout slogans as they attend the funeral of civilian Suhail Ahmad at Pinjura village south of Srinagar. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Consequently, the spokesman said the police reached on the spot and initiated medico-legal formalities and seized the weapon. Investigation of the case has been taken up. The bodies have been handed over to the legal heirs, it added. State Police Chief S P Vaid has said they recovered two bodies of militants and two weapons. He has also said that an investigation will reveal the affiliations of the slain civilians.

Early morning two more bodies were recovered: the body of a civilian and that of a militant. Unlike the civilian’s body that was located very close to the encounter – in fact, he was on the driver’s seat of the car; the militant’s body was traced from an orchard in a village, many kilometers away. So the six persons are: Amir Ahmed Malik son of Bashir Ahmed Malik resident of Harmain, Ashiq Hussian, a resident of Rakhpora Kapran – both militants, and civilians Shahid Ahmad Khan of Malikgund, Suhail Ahmad Wagay, a resident of Pinjoora and Shahnawaz Wagay, a resident of Trenz, and Gawhara resident of Mool Chitragam.

Civilian Versions

There is not a single version that will detail the incidents. There are versions supporting the two cars had come from different directions. But the police and the army insist the cars were coming from Trenz towards Pinjura. The only thing that is being talked about is that neither of the four civilians who were killed in the shootout had any direct linkages with the militants. Some are shocked over why they were killed. “Earlier in Ganawpora, the army said they killed because they pelted stones,” one of the grieving relatives said. “This time, neither of the four was carrying even a pebble and still they were killed.”

The Slain Six

But who were the civilians? What was their background and what were they doing?

One of them was Shahid Bashir Khan, son of Bashir Ahmad Khan, a resident of Malik Gund. He was of around 21 years of age and was a student of BA first year in the Higher Secondary School Shopian. He has two more brothers and belongs to a well to do family. This past season they have harvest almost 2100 boxes of apple which means their family earnings was more than a million, this season alone. Family sources termed him the obedient boy who would stay away from controversies of any kind.

“Last evening, their mother had prepared Feereeni and two of his brothers had their plate but the father said he will have it with Shahid,” one family source told Kashmir Life. “His father said that since Shahid returns after his Eisha prayers, he would wait but he did not return at all.” His friends said Shahid played cricket with them for most of the day, before and after lunch.

The second person is Suhail Khalil, son of Khalil Mohammad. With around 20 years of age, he was a student of the eleventh standard in the state-run higher secondary school at Shopian. A resident of Penjoora, the family is a prosperous one. They sell their own fruit worth Rs 30 lakh a season and own a shop in the Fruit Mundi at Shopian where they make additional earnings. The business is being managed by his two brothers of whom one is an MBA.

His family said their son had taken the Swift car and was on his way to Pehlipora, which is barely a kilometer ahead of the spot of the shooting. His sister is married there and his mother had gone to see her. Suhail, according to the family had gone to get her back. Well before he could reach, he was killed, they said. Suhail’s body was recovered Sunday night from his car. Some media reports said he had gone to drop her there and was returning.

His family said they were in touch with their ward and the last call they made was at 7:24 pm. The next time, they rang up, the phone was switched off. The family said the rumours about the firing started at 7:31 exactly and not at 8 pm. “He had gone to leave the people who work with us at their homes and bring his mother,” one relative was heard telling on a video.

The WagonR that is at the centre of the shootout

The other young man who was killed in the shootout was Nawaz Ahmad Wagay. Son of Ali Mohammad Wagay and a resident of Langandora near Trenz, he was helping his father at their small provision store, according to locals. The additional time, he had, he would go and work at Suhail’s place. Suhail and Nawaz were friends as well. It is not known if Nawaz was at Penjoora and he met him there are gave him a lift or the met on the way.

The fourth civilian is Gawhar Ahmad Lone son of Abdul Rashid Lone, a resident of Molo Chitragam. After doing his masters in physical education from a Nagpur University, he started his business in fertilizers. Local sources said he would have a minimum turnover of around Rs 40 lakh a year and his family is a well to do one. It was Lone who was driving the Waganor JK01Q – 1723.  His body was recovered from his car almost 250 meters from the shootout. His family has said Lone was on way home from Pulwama where he had gone for a medical check-up.

The Militant Duo

Even the story of the two militants, killed in the shootout is not so uninteresting. One of them is Ashiq Hussain, a resident of Rakhpora, Shopian. He was working with a hardware shop in the town but on August 27, 2017, he went missing. As the panicky family started looking for him, his photograph appeared on the internet. He is the same militant about whom his father and wife had made passionate appeals to return and that video went viral on the internet for some time. His body was recovered from a walnut plantation that is located between Amshipora and Saidpora Payeen. He had received a bullet in the abdomen and it was stitched, police said. Even his lower jaw was tied with a gauze as usually happens in the people who die with their mouths open. The spot wherefrom his body was recovered is the same where militants earlier killed four cops.

Unlike Ashiq, Aamir Malik, son of Bashir Ahmad Malik of Herman village, was a fourth-semester student at the University of Kashmir. “The last time he came home was for the month of Ramzan in 2017 and he spent last 10 days in the mosque in Aatiqaf,” one of his close relatives said, insisting the family is a well to do one. “Then he joined university and never returned.” The relatives said that Malik returned home dead after he was killed in the shootout.

There was a massive presence of the mourners who participated in their funerals. At a few places, the angry mourners fought pitched battles with the army to pave their way for the funerals. Almost every one of the slain six had more than one funeral prayers.

A Cop Explains

A senior police officer explained the situation on basis of the versions that army has given. “It is a fluid situation,” he said. “Right now, we are busy managing the public order and nothing much, beyond an FIR, has been done in the investigation.” However, on basis of the version given and explained by the army, the officer explained like this.

Restrictions in Srinagar on Monday, March 5, 2018.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

“On basis of what we have been told, it was WagonR that came to the barricade first where the ambush was laid, it did not stop, and fled and the fire exchange took place,” the officer said. “The car sped away but had not moved beyond a point and stopped almost 250 meters from the spot.” It was discovered only the next morning that the car had not fled much away. The car driver, Gawhar was recovered from his car in the morning and he was in the driver’s seat.

The officer said he has no idea if Gawhar had only one militant in his car.

It was minutes later that Swift appeared on the scene and a similar situation arose. “It seems they were stopped well before they could pass the barricade,” he said.

Even army says that one of the militants fell from the car during an exchange of fire and was killed. Was it from WagonR or from Swift?

Questions

Like versions, there are many questions in the air, being asked by people. But the questions may remain unanswered because there is nobody who has survived to tell the story.

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