Three weeks after the Army claimed to have killed “unidentified” militants in an “encounter” in South Kashmir’s Shopian, three families in Jammu region’s Rajouri have come forward to say the youths were cousins, one of them reportedly 16 years old, who had gone to Kashmir for work and not been in touch with them since July 17 night. The Army said it had ordered a probe in the matter.
The three families lodged a missing persons’ complaint about them at the Peeri Police Post in Rajouri’s Kotranka tehsil only on Sunday, amidst reports that three alleged militants killed by security forces in an encounter in Amshipora on July 18 were labourers from Rajouri district. They gave the names as Imtiyaz Ahmad, 20, and Ibrer Ahmad, 16, of Dharsakri village, and Mohammed Ibrar, 25, of Tarkasi village — both villages in Kotranka tehsil.
They said the three had left home on July 16, and gone missing the next day. Mohammad Saleem, a cousin of Ibrar Ahmed, said they kept thinking the three had been put in quarantine as part of anti-Covid measures as they came from outside. In Rajouri, the quarantine is for 21 days, and they thought the same must have been enforced for the three. On Saturday, someone from Kashmir called to tell them about the “unidentified militants” killed in Amshipora, Saleem said.
On Monday morning, the families met the Additional SP, Rajouri, Liyaqat Ali. Soon after, photos surfaced on social media of the slain “militants”. The families said they realised then that the three killed on July 18 were their sons. “We recognised them from the photographs,” one of the relatives of the three missing youths, Naseeb Khattana, told The Indian Express over phone. “We demand that their bodies be returned to us and there should be a probe.”
Later, the brother of Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Shahid Choudhary, who hails from Rajouri, posted on Facebook that the missing cousins were distantly related to their family and there was little doubt that they were the three the Army had killed on July 18. Sharing their pictures, Zafar Choudhary wrote, “Three boys killed in Amshipora (Shopian) were in distant relation, their families known to us… I have just spoken to a member of family; they have identified them beyond any doubt…”
In a statement, defence spokesperson Rajesh Kalia said, “We have noted social media inputs linked to the operation at Shopian on 18 July 2020. The three terrorists killed during the operation have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols… The Army is investigating the matter.”
The J&K Police had distanced itself from the pre-dawn operation at Amshipora village, saying it was based on Army inputs. The Army had claimed to have also recovered two pistols from the three alleged militants. They were buried in unmarked graves, after nobody came forward to claim them.
Imtiyaz’s uncle Lal Husain said, “I last talked to him on July 17 at 7.30 pm. I called him again on the 18th, at around 8 am, but his phone was switched off.” The only one among shepherd Sabir Hussain’s five children to have cleared Class 12, Imtiyaz hoped to earn enough working in the Valley to fund college, the family said.
Hussain, along with his eldest son Mohammad Arif, is currently in a highland pasture at Ghatiyala.
Ibrar Ahmed was a student of Class 11 at the government-run Higher Secondary School at Peeri village in Kotranka , the family said. He has two younger siblings, and also belongs to a shepherd family. Ibrar’s father works as a labourer in Saudi Arabia.
Khattana said the three cousins would go to the Valley every year for work, and this time had left for Shopian on July 16, trekking through the mountains.
Imtiyaz’s uncle Mohammad Aslam said many youths head for the Valley for work during holidays. This time educational institutions continue to be shut and hence they had left last month, after the Covid restrictions were eased a bit. He said Imtiyaz was the only one with a mobile phone among the three and he had called up his maternal uncle Lal Hussain on July 17 evening to say they had reached Shopian, arranged a room on rent, as well as purchased rations and a stove for cooking.
The eldest, Mohammad Ibrar, 25, had earlier worked as a labourer in Saudi Arabia for nearly four years. On returning, he had built a house in the village where he used to live with his wife and a 15-month-old son.
A senior Rajouri police officer confirmed having registered a missing report, and said they would probe the same.
The last encounter proved to be fake in the Valley was 10 years ago, when Armymen were accused of killing three men at Machil on the Line of Control. A general court martial had convicted five of them, including a Colonel, dismissed them and sentenced them to jail. However, a military court had suspended their sentence.
Since March this year, the J&K Police has not been handing over bodies of alleged militants killed in encounters, or even identifying them or releasing their pictures.
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