Situation in sought Kashmir took a turn for the worse on Monday, March 5, as people came out on streets to protest the deaths in firing by security forces on Sunday.
Hundreds of people, including some gun-toting militants reportedly attended the funeral of a slain Lashkar-e-Taiba commander in south Kashmir despite prohibitory orders and a clamp down on internet services across the Kashmir Valley.
Media reports said there were dozens of clashes involving stone-pelting erupted in Shopian.
While the security forces claim that all those killed were militants or their over-ground workers, separatist leaders and locals alleged that four of them were civilians.
The deaths on Sunday evening occurred after a militant travelling in a car attacked an Indian Army’s mobile vehicle checkpost near Pahnoo village in Shopian district, some 60 km south of Srinagar. An Army spokesperson claimed the youths were overground militant workers, but local residents claimed they were civilians travelling in the car, according to media reports. Four persons were confirmed dead on Sunday night and two more bodies were recovered on Monday morning, said reports quoting the police.
While the police have not identified the three youths killed on Sunday, locals identified them as Suhail Ahmad Wagay , Nawaz Ahmad Wagay and Shahid Khan, said a report in The Hindustan Times (HT).
While the army called them “over-the-ground workers or accomplices” of the militants travelling in a Maruti Swift car, the locals said they were just civilians. A statement by police spokesman also referred to the three youths as “individuals”, the HT report said.
A relative of Suhail said the three were innocent and had nothing to do with militancy. “Suhail was a 22-year-old man doing fruit business of his family. His father and brother were in Delhi for business. Suhail had hired the services of the other two boys to help him transport fruit carts into the cold storage. He had called them overnight and was taking them home so that they could start work early next morning,” HT quoted Suhail’s relative, Fayaz Ahmad Mir, as saying.
Mir said that the three had bullet wounds in their backs. “No militant was accompanying them. He had called his family minutes before the shootout saying he was reaching home with the two boys.”
On the slain militant, the army’s identification differed from that of the police. While the army said he was Shahid Ahmad Dar, a resident of Jamnagri Shopian, the police spokesman identified him as Amir Ahmed Malik, a resident of Harmeen Shopian, belonging to banned LeT outfit and active since July 2017.
Later, police said they recovered the bullet-ridden body of Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Ashiq Hussain Bhat at Saidpora area in Shopian, about six km from the firing spot. He was missing since November 13, 2017.
“Preliminary investigation suggests that Bhat’s death was part of Sunday’s gunfight in Pahnoo village. Further investigation is on,” a police officer was quoted as saying.
The body of a civilian, Gowhar Ahmad Lone, 24, was also found on Monday morning, some 250 metres away from the gunfight site.
The killings have triggered outrage in the Valley.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was “deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian” and expressed her “heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families”.
Separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik called for a valley-wide protest shutdown against the killings.
Fearing street protests, the authorities imposed restrictions in parts of Srinagar city and south Kashmir region. Internet connectivity in south Kashmir was suspended while its speed was curbed at other places in the Valley.
The State Public Service Commission ordered the cancellation of Monday’s civil services exams in the state. All university and school board exams scheduled on Monday were postponed.
People thronged Kapran village of Shopian to participate in the funeral of Lashkar commander Ashiq Hussain Bhat. Half a dozen militants were also seen offering the congregational Nimaz-e-Janaza of the slain commander. The militants then fired in the air to honour their dead colleague.
Protests also broke out in neighbouring Anantnag and Pulwama districts, north Kashmir’s Bandipora district and Badgam in central Kashmir where youths clashed with the security forces.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Malik was arrested from here on Monday during a protest march against the killings. Police intercepted the Malik-led protest march and took the separatist leader and some of his supporters into custody.