A top Hizbul Mujahideen militant was among two militants killed in Drabgam village of south Kashmir’s Pulwama on Monday, while two Army personnel were injured in the gunfight.
A civilian was also killed and 21 people injured when security forces opened fire on protestors who were trying to help the militants escape.
The two soldiers, including a Major of 44 Rashtriya Rifles (RR), were injured in the initial exchange of fire and were taken to Army’s 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar.
Among the militants killed is Sameer Ahmad Bhat, alias Sameer Tiger, believed to be a top Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’. The other militant killed was identified as Aqib Mushtaq Khan, a resident of Rajpora village, Pulwama, who had reportedly joined the militants’ ranks in July last year.
“It is a big success,” Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, S P Pani told The Indian Express. “He (Sameer) was involved in a series of atrocities, killings and other things”.
Sameer was on the Army’s list of most-wanted militants in south Kashmir. A resident of Drabgam, he was said to be very popular among local residents and his pictures were often circulated on social media. In a recent statement, the police had said that Sameer was behind the fatal attack on BJP leader Ghulam Nabi Patel at Rajpora, Pulwama. Two policemen were injured in the attack.
Sameer, who joined the militant ranks in May 2016, was earlier an overground worker for militants and an active stone-pelter, a police spokesperson said. “He was very close to Riyaz Naikoo (operations chief of Hizbul Mujahideen). They were spotted together in a recent video.”
IGP Pani confirmed that a civilian protestor was also “killed in crossfire”. As the firefight wore on, hundreds of people from Drabgam and other villages converged near the encounter site and threw stones at the security forces to disrupt the cordon and search operation, and to help the holed-up militants escape.
As the forces opened fire and shot pellets to chase them away, a civilian protestor, identified as Shahid Ahmad Dar (25), a resident of Arihal in Pulwama, was killed and several others injured.
“We have received 21 injured people,” Medical Superintendent of Pulwama District Hospital Dr Abdul Rashid Parra told The Indian Express. “They were hit either by bullets or pellets. We have referred 12 injured to Srinagar hospitals”.
Medical Superintendent of SMHS Hospital in Srinagar Dr Saleem Tak said they have received seven patients. “Five of them had pellet injury, two have been hit by bullets,” he said.
Meanwhile, the road from Pulwama to Drabgam was blocked at several places with stones, felled poplar trees and big concrete sewer pipes. At different villages across the route, men and women, both young and a little older, were out on the streets, occasionally throwing a stone at a passing vehicle. A stream of men, mostly in their late-teens and early-twenties, some with faces masked, trickled into the village and pelted stones at police and Army personnel.