A 26-year-old shopkeeper in Kupwara has accused the Jammu and Kashmir Police of using his picture in a public notice offering a Rs 10 lakh reward for information on one of the most wanted militants in the Valley.
Police believe the militant, Abdul Qayoom Najar, is behind the mysterious killings of six civilians over the past one month in Sopore. They have claimed that Najar — a top commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and one of the oldest surviving militants in the Valley — is a “lookalike” of the Kupwara shopkeeper.
The ‘wanted’ posters went up last Wednesday in Sopore and adjoining areas, with pictures, purportedly, of Najar and another Hizb militant, Imtiyaz Ahmad Kundoo, and were reproduced in traditional and social media. Hours later, North Kashmir shopkeeper Irfan Shah began getting calls and visitors at his electronics shop in Kupwara town. His face was on police posters, identifying him as a most wanted militant, Shah was informed.
Shah told The Indian Express that he rushed to the local police station along with some relatives to complain about the mistake. “The officials told me that this was not my picture, but also asked me not to make a hue and cry about this matter,” Shah said.
Shah then went to the Kupwara superintendent of police, taking along some influential traders of the town, and the picture from which he claims the police took the image they used in the poster. “The SP contacted his seniors, and even sent my pictures to them. He cautioned me that I should not leave the town at least for one month,” said Shah.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my picture being passed off as the photograph of one of the most wanted militants of the Valley. For me and my family it has been a nightmare. Our life has become miserable in the past five days, and I don’t know what to do. My wife, mother and sisters are worried for me,” Shah told The Indian Express on Sunday.
Shah alleged the police had cut out his picture from one that had been taken at a park in Baramulla, in which he had posed along with his nephew, Ishfaq Bashir. “The arm of my nephew is visible in the poster used by the police. The original picture was edited to pass me off as the wanted militant,” Shah said.
Shah’s cousin Omar Ashraf alleged that police, under pressure after the series of killings in Sopore, were looking for a scapegoat. “The police’s sources cops identified him as militant in ‘Wanted’ poster may have misled them by providing a wrong picture of Qayoom Najar. Now my cousin may be targeted by any agency,” he said. “Those who have done this should be punished.”
Najar, a resident of Sopore town, joined militancy at the age of 16. Sources said the police have no recent picture of his.
DIG, North Kashmir, Gareeb Das, told The Indian Express that Shah’s complaint had been brought to his notice. “The shopkeeper is actually a lookalike of the wanted militant. If the photograph used in our poster is examined by experts, they will be able to pick out many differences,” Das said.
Advocate Asif Ahmad, secretary of the Bar Association of Kupwara, who accompanied Shah along with senior citizens of the town to the police, accused the police of taking the matter casually. “We even produced the master copy of the photograph, after which senior officers in Kupwara were convinced that they had made a mistake,” he said, adding that the SP, Kupwara, had given a certificate to Shah that he was not a wanted militant — and that in case he was arrested, the family should contact him.