Three youths were killed in Srinagar in the early hours of Wednesday in an “encounter”, with the Army and police claiming that they were terrorists planning a big strike along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. Soon after the photos of the men surfaced on social media, families came forward claiming the three were innocent and had no militant links.
As per the J&K Police, Zubair Ahmad of Shopian, and Ajaz Ahmad Ganai and Athar Mushtaq of Pulwama were “hardcore” militant associates, though it admitted their names were not in the list of terrorists. Ajaz was the son of a policeman. IGP, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar said they were investigating the case and “will come to a conclusion soon”.
While the first statement attributed the encounter to a joint operation by the police, Army and CRPF, later on Wednesday, the police said it had joined only later with the CRPF.
The allegations of fake encounter come four days after the J&K Police filed a chargesheet against an Army officer and two civilians over the killing of three labourers from Rajouri in another such encounter, at Shopian in July. Then, too, the police had said it was acting on Army inputs.
On Tuesday evening, security personnel had cordoned off a house located outside the Hokersar wetland in Srinagar. The forces claimed that the three men holed up inside opened fire on them, triggering an “encounter” that continued intermittently through the night. On Wednesday, the police and Army claimed to have killed three “terrorists”.
“For the past many days, intelligence inputs were pouring in about the movement of militants on the (Srinagar-Baramulla) national highway. Yesterday we developed leads and came to know that militants are hiding in a house,” General Officer Commanding (GoC), Kilo Force, H Sahi said at a press briefing. “They were asked to surrender. However, they responded with firing and the operation was suspended for the night. When the operation was resumed in the morning, they were again given an offer to surrender. However, they again started firing and hurled grenades at the forces, which gave us an indication that they had no intention to surrender.”
In the revised statement issued on Wednesday evening, the J&K Police said that about 5.30 pm, “troops of 02 RR (Rashtriya Rifles)” launched a cordon operation on “a specific input”, and were attacked with grenades and indiscriminate firing. “On receipt of this information, Srinagar police immediately along with police component Srinagar (Special Operations Group) and Valley QAT (Quick Action Team) CRPF rushed to the spot.”
As soon as the photos of the youths started circulating, a family from south Kashmir’s Pulwama reached the Police Control Room (PCR) in Srinagar, accusing the forces of killing innocent men. “He (Ajaz) had tea with me at 10 in the morning on Tuesday. He said he was going to the Board (Board of School Education),” Ajaz’s grandfather Bashir Ahmad Gasnai said, alleging that he had been dragged out of a car and shot. “Why was my child killed? What did he do? We need answers.” Ajaz’s policeman father is posted in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal.
The Ganais were soon joined in the protest outside the PCR by another family from Shopian.“Please hand me the body of my child. I only need his body,” a woman wailed.
Zubair’s brother Irfan Ahmad Lone said he would talk to the media on Thursday.
Former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti demanded that authorities “come clean” on the matter.
IGP Kumar told The Indian Express, “It is true their names aren’t mentioned in our list of terrorists but two of them are hardcore associates of terrorists (overground workers)… Reported third might have joined very recently… Moreover, they were given the opportunity to surrender twice yesterday evening and today morning but they didn’t surrender.”
About the allegations of the families, Kumar said, “Generally parents don’t have an idea about the activities of such youths… For example, one student from Pulwama who was taking coaching in Srinagar was caught on CCTV lobbying a grenade. His parents weren’t aware.”
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