In a big blow to militants in South Kashmir, seven militants, including three alleged top commanders and two Pakistani militants, were killed in two separate encounters between militants and police, security forces on Sunday. The Shopian operation also saw the death of a soldier, while in the protests that followed, a civilian was killed and over 50 people, including an infant, were injured.
This was the second big success for security forces in two days, with six militants killed in an encounter Friday. Police claimed that the militants who died in Shopian included men behind the killing of an Army man, Lt Umar Fayaz, in 2017, of several policemen, and of a youth whose throat was slit recently on the suspicion of being an informer.
Pre-dawn operations, the new strategy
In a new strategy, security forces have started launching operations during the night. The target is to conclude an anti-militancy operation before dawn. The new strategy has helped the forces avoid protests by stone-pelters at the encounter site. In the past, the anti-militancy operations, especially in south Kashmir, had been tough for the security forces as they had to fight the militants as well as stone-pelting protesters.
While six militants were killed in Shopian district, security forces claimed to have killed a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant from Pakistan in Awantipora in Pulwama district. With the killing of the Shopian militants, “all notorious terrorists of the belt have been successfully eliminated”, police said. “These terrorists were involved in a series of terror crimes in the area,” IGP, Kashmir, S P Pani said.
The Shopian encounter followed a cordon-and-search operation before dawn by security forces in Batgund-Kapran area. The firing lasted into the morning. Five of the militants killed, identified as locals, were Mushtaq Ahmad Mir alias Hammad; Mohammad Abass Bhatt; Umar Majeed Ganaie alias Hanzalla; Waseem Wagay alias Saifullah; and Khalid Farooq Malik alias Rafi. Police identified the sixth, based on “material evidence collected”, as a Pakistani.
The group included men affiliated to both the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a police statement said. Mushtaq was allegedly the LeT’s ‘district commander’ for Shopian, while Abass and Umar were reportedly Hizbul Mujahedeen’s ‘commanders’ for Shopian and Kulgam district respectively. Police said Mushtaq had been active in the area since 2014 and was wanted for weapons-snatching, firing and grenade-lobbing cases. Abass was said to be behind the recent spate of “gruesome killings” of civilians in Shopian, apart from the killing of Umar Fayaz and four police personnel, besides other civilian killings.
Among the others, police said Umer Majeed Ganaie was involved in the 2017 killing of four policemen and two banks guards at Kulgam. A few days ago, a photo of Ganaie — who had escaped an encounter earlier — near the Clock Tower in Srinagar had gone viral.
Police said Waseem and Khalid too were wanted for civilian killings and “several terror crimes”.
On the “Pakistani” miliant, police said, “He was wanted in the gruesome killing of civilians in the area, including the throat-slitting video uploaded on social media.”
While the encounter was still on, protesters gathered to help the militants escape. Later, massive clashes broke out, and in the bid by security forces to control them, Kulgam resident Nouman Ashraf was killed and over 50 civilians received injuries.
One Armyman was killed in the firing with militants, and was identified as Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad, a two-time winner of the Sena Medal. A resident of Kulgam, Ahmad had been with the Territorial Army but was operating with 34 Rashtriya Rifles on Sunday.
Health officials in Kulgam and Shopian confirmed receiving many with pellet and bullet injuries. “Among the injured is an 20-month baby. She has pellet injury in one eye, she is stable,” Shopian Chief Medical Officer Dr Abdul Rashid Najar said.
Locals claimed the encounter had lasted seven hours, starting Sunday early morning at 1 am.
A total of 16 militants have been killed over the past week in South Kashmir. Shopian district has seen killing of 48 militants so far this year, said police.
A senior police officer in South Kashmir told The Indian Express that the back-to-back encounters had dealt a body blow to militants. “One of the important reasons behind the multiple encounters is that in winters, militants move toward villages and take shelter in houses. In summers, they take advantage of the dense orchards (to hide).”
The encounter at Awantipora was brief, and followed a search operation. Police identified the dead militant as a Pakistani affiliated with the JeM.
A shutdown has been called on Monday against the killings.