Two policemen were killed at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital Tuesday after militants opened fire on a police team accompanying detainees from the Central Jail to the hospital for a medical check-up, police said. A top Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) commander, Naveed Jat alias Abu Hanzulla, escaped from police custody during the attack.
Director General, Jammu and Kashmir Police, SP Vaid told The Indian Express: “At least two or three militants were involved in the incident. We are maintaining high alert and we will go after them till we neutralise them.”
The policemen killed were identified as Head Constable Mushtaq Ahmad from Kupwara in North Kashmir and Constable Babar Ahmad from Anantnag in the South. A senior police officer said all angles, “including whether there was an inside hand”, were being probed.
“The detainees brought to the hospital were referred to different departments and were not together during the incident,” said the officer. Jat was with three policemen near the hospital’s OPD when militants opened fire.
Jat, a resident of Chak No 421, district Vehari in Pakistan’s Multan was arrested in Kulgam in 2014 and was then LeT’s district commander and a close associate of Abu Qasim and Abu Dujana — both LeT Kashmir chiefs — who were subsequently killed by security forces.
According to police records, Jat had joined LeT in 2011 and had infiltrated the Valley in October 2012. Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) South Kashmir SP Pani told The Indian Express that Jat “was involved in three murder cases in 2013 in Pulwama and was facing trial in a number of cases across Kashmir”.
Jat’s escape, police sources said, will motivate the LeT, which has faced a rout after its commander Abu Ismail was killed in an encounter last year. Since then, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has emerged as the main militant outfit particularly in South Kashmir over the last year, sources said.
According to police, Jat’s escape is expected reactivate the LeT’s vast network, which has remained dormant after the death of Abu Qasim, Abu Dujana and Abu Ismail. Before his arrest, police said, Jat was active in South Kashmir for two years. Police said he was responsible for a number of attacks on police and security forces including the killing of a police officer and a CRPF personnel in Pulwama and Shopian (in 2013) and snatching their rifles.
According to witnesses at the hospital Tuesday, the police party was fired upon from inside the hospital as they approached the door of OPD Block A at around 11.30 am. “I heard gunshots and we ducked for cover but we saw several people running towards the main gate, the militants could have blended with the crowd as they ran out,” said Zafarullah, the parking attendant outside the OPD block.
The police party, comprising 23 police officials, were accompanying six prisoners, including Jat, to the hospital for a check up, DIG Central Kashmir Ghulam Hassan Bhat said. None of the other five detainees suffered any injuries during the shooting, police said. Meanwhile, DG Prisons, SK Mishra has ordered an enquiry into the incident.
CCTV footage of the incident shows at least two phiran-clad men running towards the hospital gate. Witnesses told The Indian Express that they heard at least four gunshots before panicked crowds ran towards the hospital’s main gate.
Well after the attack, patients continued to the arrive at the hospital as OPD services were not suspended. “We heard gunshots and all the patients who were awaiting their turn in the OPD entered the doctor’s room to escape the bullets,” said an attendant.
Condoling the death of the two policemen, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Pained to hear that two more brave policemen lost their lives in an attack in Srinagar today. My heart goes out to their families and loved ones.”