Six militants, including three from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), two soldiers and a civilian were killed in two separate encounters in South Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts on Thursday.
A J&K Police spokesperson said, “On a credible input, a cordon and search operation was launched today morning by police and security forces at Dalipora area (Pulwama).” Militants opened fire during the operation, triggering an encounter, the spokesperson said.
According to the police, the militants, who were hiding, fired indiscriminately when security forces were evacuating civilians from the neighbourhood, leaving a civilian and an Army man dead.
The slain soldier was identified as Sepoy Sandeep from Haryana.
The family of the civilian, Rayees Ahmad, killed during the pre-dawn encounter, alleged that the Army and Special Operation Group of the J&K Police took Rayees and his brother Younis as human shields to conduct searches in the area — an allegation denied by the police and Army.
According to the family members, Rayees, Younis and their father Jalaluddin Dar were taken by the forces to conduct the search operation while the family was getting ready for the pre-dawn meal during Ramzan. “They climbed our walls to enter our house. Then they (security forces) took us with them, but my father was released after sometime. The Army took us to search nearby houses in the village. My brother (Rayees) was also present with me but suddenly there was firing and I was hit (by bullet),” Younis told The Indian Express.
A police spokesperson said Rayees died when “hiding terrorists fired indiscriminately” as security forces “were evacuating civilians from the neighbourhood around the target house”. Another officer said that Rayees was killed in “cross-firing”.
Srinagar-based defence spokesperson Rajesh Kalia said, “The Army conducts its operation in a professional manner and these (human shield) allegations are baseless.”
Medical Superintendent of Pulwama District Hospital Dr Rashid Para said Rayees was declared brought dead. “Rayees had injuries on the neck and chest, while his brother was discharged from the hospital,” he said.
Clashes ensued between youths and security forces in some areas of Pulwama following the encounter, with security forces resorting to tear gas shelling to disperse the protesters.
The three militants who were killed were identified as Naseer Pandith of Pulwama’s Kareemabad, Umar Mir of Shopian, and a Pakistani national, Khalid, the police said. Khalid was a JeM commander and was involved in several attacks on security establishments, the police said. He was also involved in the attack on a CRPF camp in Lethpora which left five CRPF personnel dead in 2017, they said.
Pandith was involved in the killing of a policeman in Pulwama in 2018 on the eve of Eid, the police said.
In a separate encounter in Handew village of neighbouring Shopian district on Thursday evening, three militants were killed. A senior police officer said that the identities of the militants were being ascertained.
A soldier who was injured in the operation later died, said sources in the Army. Police officers said that one of the three was facing a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.