The brother of an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer was among three militants killed in a gunbattle with security forces at Heff Shirmal in Shopian district of south Kashmir Tuesday.
Four photojournalists, covering protests by local residents while the gunbattle was on, sustained injuries when securitymen fired pellets to break up the protest. Six securitymen and a civilian were also injured in the clashes.
Among the three militants killed was Shams-ul-Haq Mengnoo, a Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery student, who went missing last May and later joined the militant ranks. Shams is the younger brother of an IPS officer posted in the North-East. Police said that the three militants killed were affiliated to the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Former DGP Shesh Paul Vaid, in a tweet, said: “Shamsul Haq, brother of IPS officer who had joined militant ranks was among the 3 terrorists killed today in Shopian. I remember the efforts that were made by his brother/other family members and J&K Police to bring him back to mainstream but he met a sad end today.”
This was the second such gunbattle in the Valley in the last 24 hours and a total of six militants have been killed. A J&K Police spokesperson said: “Based on credible inputs about the presence of terrorists, a cordon and search operation was launched today jointly by police and security forces in the area. As the searches were going on, the search party was fired upon by terrorists… leading to a gunfight.”
Soon thereafter, clashes broke out between stone-throwing youth and securitymen as people tried to head to the site of the gunbattle.
Hindustan Times photographer Waseem Andrabi, Rising Kashmir’s Nissar ul Haq, Alternative News photojournalist Mir Burhan and Kashmir Essence news portal’s Junaid Gulzar sustained injuries as securitymen fired pellets in the direction of the protesters.
Nissar ul Haq said: “We were standing on the side of the protesters. We held up our cameras, so that the security forces would let us cross over to their side and shoot pictures. Before we could do that, we heard a blast and six of us fell down. Waseem and I looked at each other. There was blood flowing down our faces.”
Andrabi was also hit by pellets on his face. “I received eight pellets on my face. Thankfully, my eyes were saved,” he said. Mir Burhan and Junaid Gulzar sustained minor injuries.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, in a tweet, said: “Highly unfortunate reports about journalists injured, including some with pellet injuries, while covering clashes in South Kashmir. I condemn this incident. The indiscriminate use of force, often without any accountability, will always be counterproductive.”
Mukhtar Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Press Photographers Association, urged Governor Satya Pal Malik and Director General of Police Dilbag Singh to “personally look into the matter and order a magisterial enquiry into the incident”.
The Kashmir Press Club (KPC) and the Kashmir Working Journalists Association (KWJA) also called for inquiries into the incident. “Most unfortunate that journalists are made target when they are only performing their duties. It is appalling that pellets were fired at them,” the KPC said in a statement.