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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Day after Shopian encounter, smoke still billows; questions among locals

The encounter began on March 13 and lasted three days.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Shopian |
Updated: March 17, 2021 8:04:02 am
Damaged houses in Rawalpora, Shopian. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Burnt shoes and clothes, broken utensils and charred tin roofs, all part of the rubble of the five houses left gutted in the aftermath of the encounter at Shopian in which two local Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, including militant commander Vilayat Ahmad Lone, alias Sajad Afghani, were killed. Stones were pelted outside the immediate vicinity of the encounter site, after a long time in the Valley.

The encounter began on March 13 and lasted three days. On Tuesday, smoke still rose from the rubble as residents of the five homes made efforts to douse the fire and salvage what they could from the mound of dust and bricks. Residents of Malik Mohalla, Rawalpora in Shopian, trickled in to see the damage since they had never witnessed an encounter here before. The women raised slogans and children did not go to school.

In a statement, J&K Police said that “three houses caught fire while a group of miscreants tried to disrupt the operation and created law and order problem near the encounter site during which some miscreants were also injured”. The statement did not mention how the houses caught fire.

Neighbours made appeals as they collected money to help families whose houses had been damaged to begin construction again. “I lived here with my mother, my wife and two children. They don’t have clothes and even have lost my shop through which I used to support them,” Arif Imran Mir, 33, told The Indian Express. He said that after the first night of cordon, he and his two children — 10 and seven years old — were moved to the village lambardar’s house. “Now there is nothing left to come back to…”

Locals said that at least 35 to 40 individuals, including children, have been left homeless and are currently residing in the houses of neighbours and relatives around the encounter site.

Mir’s is the third house from the one where the two militants are believed to have been holed up. In a statement J&K police said, that on the morning of March 14 “repeated announcements were again made to hiding terrorist to surrender, but the terrorist fired on joint search party which was retaliated”. In the ensuing encounter, one militant identified as Jahangir Ahmad Wani, affiliated with LeT, was killed. While the five houses that were stacked close to each other have been razed to the ground, at least three others have suffered damages.

Ghulam Mohammad Lone, 70, sat in his neighbour’s house, staring at the debris that used to be his home. “I lived here with my family of five and after we were evacuated, I watched it go up in smoke.” He said it was the first encounter in this area.

Police said the deceased militant commander, Lone, was “involved in attacks on security establishments and brutal killings of civilians branding them as police/SF informers”.

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