by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: In the early hours of Thursday night a cordon and search operation (CASO) was launched in remote Zagoo in Arizal belt of Budgam. A joint team of army’s 53RR, SOG and CRPF was working on the basis of a credible input about the presence of militants in the area. At around 5 am, the contact was established with the hiding militants, believed to be two in numbers.
Zagoo Kharian is a dusky, high altitude hamlet circled by the jungles.
Within minutes after the CASO tightened and militants were located holed inside a tin shed, the first gunshot was heard, resulting in an encounter. As the gunfight raged, the internet was suspended across Budgam. In the initial exchange of fire one army man was injured. He was shifted to Srinagar, where his condition is said to be stable. The encounter took place in the forest area, inside a makeshift tin-shed.
At 8 am, there was silence at the encounter site, as no shots were now fired from the militant’s side.
As the news of encounter spread in the area, hundreds of youngsters came out on the streets to protest. Reports said that scores of the youth from Harde-Panzu, Arizal and its adjoining areas took to streets and clashed with the forces. The forces responded by lobbing teargas shells to disperse the youth. No injury was reported till this report was filed.
At 9:30 am, police confirmed the killing of two militants in the encounter. But the identity of the slain militants was not established immediately as the bodies were charred in the fire. It took a while for the police to confirm their identities.
A senior army officer who briefed the reporters on the spot said they got the information and launched the operation. Even after the killing of the two militants, they had no idea about the identity of the slain duo.
But even before police could have confirmed their identities, Pampore town closed instantly, as locals believed one of the slain militants was local.
At around 11 am, police finally identified one of the two slain militants as Mukhtar Ahmad Khan son of Abdul Ahad Khan, a resident of Brass-Arizal in Budgam. He lived in a modest house located at a two hours trek from the encounter site. Mukhtar’s body was immediately handed over to the family for his funeral. As people came to know about Mukhtar’s killing, the small sleepy hamlet of Brass-Arizal, where he lived, went into instant mourning. Quickly, Mukhtar’s spacious courtyard was filled by sloganeering people.
Mukhtar, 22, a taxi driver by profession, joined Lashkar-e-Toiba some two and half years back. Mukhtar is survived by aged parents and three sisters, two of who are married and settled.
While Mukhtar’s funeral was in progress, in Pampore people were still keeping their fingers crossed trying to confirm the news of Mohammad Amin Mir’s killing. Amin, who joined Lashkar-e-Toiba a few months back, was believed to be the second militant killed in the Zagoo gunfight.
Finally, at 2 pm, police confirmed that the second militant killed in Zagoo gunfight was Amin, a resident of Drangbal, Pampore. As the news reached Amin’s hometown, a series of clashes reported from different locations in Pampore. In order to contain the situation, police resorted to tear-gas shelling. According to reports at least two people were injured in the clashes. Reports also suggest that a stone near the site of clashes hit a woman as a man was injured due to a smoke shell. As clashes intensified, entire Pampore town was shut. The highway that passes through Pampore soon became deserted.
Amin, 23, was orphaned when he was just a toddler, is survived by three brothers, all married. A few months before Amin joined militancy he got engaged to one of his cousins. He was supposed to get married in November this year. Amin used to drive a load-carrier auto and deliver milk.
After thousands participated in his funeral at Eig Ghah Pampore, located just across the highway, barely 100 metres from his home, he was taken for burial at his ancestral graveyard.
Police issued a detailed statement, which is reproduced here:
“In Zagoo area of KhanSahib, District Budgam, search operation was launched today morning jointly by a team of police and security forces based on credible inputs about the presence of terrorists in the area.
During the search operation, hiding terrorist fired on the search party. The fire was retaliated leading to an encounter. In the ensuing encounter, two terrorists were neutralized. Their identities are being ascertained.
Apropos our earlier press release regarding Budgam encounter, it is further informed that the dead bodies of the two terrorists were retrieved from the site of encounter along with arms and ammunition. One of the killed terrorists has been identified as Mukhtar Ahmad Khan son of Abdul Ahad Khan, a resident of Brass Arizal Budgam while the other terrorist has been identified as Mohd Amin Mir son of Ghulam Rasool Mir resident of Drangbal Pampore.
They were both involved in a series of terror attacks on security establishments in the area. Mukhtar was involved in case FIR No 37/2018 under section 307 RPC, 7/27 Arms Act, 16/18 ULAP Act dated 25.03.2018 in Budgam, while Mohd Amin was involved in case FIR No 75/2018 under section 18/20/30 ULAP Act at PS Pampore.
In the encounter, one army jawan also sustained injuries and was evacuated to hospital for medical attention. He is stated to be stable. Police has registered a case and investigation has started.
Citizens are once again requested not to venture inside the encounter zone since such an area can prove dangerous due to stray explosive materials. People are requested to cooperate with police till the area is completely sanitized and cleared of all the explosives materials if any.”